Calgary Philharmonic trumpet player returns from open heart surgery to perform again

CPO principal trumpet player Adam Zinatelli discovered that a faulty valve was the one beating in his heart, not his musical instrument.

The faulty valve was beating in his heart, not his trumpet

Adam Zinatelli is returning to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra following a six-month hiatus after undergoing open heart surgery. (Masa Higuchi)

Adam Zinatelli became a principal performer with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in his twenties.

When the trumpet player turned 30 things got challenging in ways that had nothing to do with his musical talent.

"I found out that I had a a congenital heart defect," Zinatelli said, in a Wednesday interview with the Calgary Eyeopener.

While many people live long and prosper with a heart defect, Zinatelli's doctors sensed that his had the potential to trigger what Zinatelli called "an adverse event".

Heart murmur

All of it was precipitated by a surprise trip to the emergency room at Calgary's Sheldon Chumir Centre to attend to a gallbladder attack that disrupted Zinatelli's ability to perform Brahms with the CPO.

"I ate more cheese and olive oil within a 24-hour period than anyone should admit to," Zinatelli said, which turned out to be a small deal.

The much bigger deal came as part of the routine examination Zinatelli went through while visiting emergency, that led over a period of time to undergoing open heart surgery.

"The doctor there heard a heart murmur that hadn't been noticed before," he said. "That led me down the path of tests and X-rays and ultrasounds and MRIs and [eventually] they diagnosed this [heart defect] problem … and all the attendant complications that come along with that."

That meant a waiting period before surgery, while Zinatelli still performed with the philharmonic, without quite knowing for certain what the wrong exhalation might lead to.

"When you play the trumpet, it's an incredible physical stress to do so especially within your lungs and rib cage — your whole chest area — which is right where all this is happening," he said. "So I would become … hyper aware of every little twinge, every little feeling that's not normal."


Eventually, following the end of CPO's 2017-18 season, there was open heart surgery, and all the uncertainty and anxiety that entailed.

"The main thing is that I wasn't sure whether they were going to be able to repair my valve or if they were going to have to replace it," Zinatelli said. "I was definitely getting about five centimetres of plastic aorta [inserted], which I happily have now. 

"It turns out they were able to repair my aortic valve rather than replace it," he added, "which means I don't have to be on anticoagulants and I can live a very normal life."

Movie music

On Jan.18 at the Jack Singer Hall, following a six-month hiatus, Zinatelli returns to the symphony to perform a night of movie music, following a gloriously unremarkable recovery period.

"I recovered in a very low-key way for the first couple months as you as you're supposed to. Then I started the cardiac rehab program at Repsol [Sports] Centre which is … a wonderful program."

Five months off

What Zinatelli doesn't underestimate is the fact that he pre-emptively underwent surgery, rather than waiting to see whether the worst-case, adverse-event scenario might unfold.

Along the road to recovery, he might even have stepped up his trumpet game.

"I took five months off the trumpet completely.  I was able to target a few specific areas of my playing that I've been working on for years," he said, "but have remained weaknesses — and to find a way to do it right from the beginning."

He also didn't rush back to the music stand.

"I was very mindful coming back, of going very slowly," he said, "[and] building very gradually, just like an athlete would build and doing things right the first time — and every time.

"I've been playing gently, gently for a couple of months and getting closer to being back in shape and [improving in] the areas of my playing that I targeted.

"I'm so much more capable now, which is wonderful."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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