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CSO’s Muti gets pacemaker

The fall on Feb. 4 that left Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti with multiple jaw and cheekbone fractures was caused by “a common heart rhythm disturbance,” cardiac specialists at Northwestern Memorial Hospital said in a statement on Thursday which was the first explanation on the underlying cause of his blackout and fall.

Doctors installed a pacemaker “to prevent possible future episodes of slow heart rate,” a procedure that they described as “standard.”

“Fortunately, the remainder of the maestro’s medical evaluation has revealed that he has superb heart function,” the doctors said.

Muti, 69, fell from the conductor’s podium during a rehearsal and has been at Northwestern since being taken there by emergency responders immediately after his accident. On Monday he had surgery to repair the injuries to his jaw and face that his surgeon described as “successful.”

Dr. David Lloyd-Jones, a Northwestern cardiologist, and Dr. Bradley P. Knight, director of cardiac electrophysiology at the hospital, said in the statement that pacemakers “are small devices (about the size of a silver dollar)” that monitor heart rhythms and can deliver a small charge to prompt a heart beat if the patient’s heart rate drops significantly.

“Patients with pacemakers live full and active lives with excellent prognosis,” the doctors’ statement said.

Spokeswomen for both the CSO and Northwestern said that they had no further information on other areas that night have been tested or on any other matters regarding Muti’s overall health. Nor could they say if there was any connection between this problem and the illness that caused Muti to cut short his conducting duties in September and return to Italy.

Dr. Alexis B. Olsson, the Northwestern dental surgeon who operated on Muti Monday, described him at a press briefing Tuesday as “strong” and unusually responsive to treatment “for a man of his age, or even younger.”

William A. Osborn, chairman of the CSO Association board, added, “The board, musicians and staff of the [CSO] completely stand behind Riccardo Muti, and we have made his recovery our top priority.

“I can say with certainty that the relationship between the CSOA and Maestro Muti is strong; he is an important part of our family. While health is a private and personal matter, we are grateful to Maestro Muti for allowing us to share his information with you.”

Muti was quoted as saying, “I am so grateful to all of you for your support, caring and words from your hearts to mine. I am so disappointed that I was not able to share in the music making by our great Orchestra these past weeks. In my rehearsals, the Orchestra sounded like angels, and I wanted so much to make music together with them.

“A music director’s relationship with his orchestra is like a marriage. Together, we are a family and we bond in times of joy and in times of challenge.

“I think it was destiny that I came to Chicago,” Muti concluded, “and I think what has happened is also destiny, because now I understand and feel more comfortable than ever about returning to my work.”

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