Grammy-nominated musician finds rhythm again after heart transplant

Peter Levin.jpg
Posted at 8:08 AM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 12:11:40-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Three months after an emergency heart transplant, Grammy-nominated keyboardist, producer, songwriter and artist Peter Levin began to find his rhythm with his new heart.

"I don't really see extended touring in my future, you know, just for the sole reason I need to be around the hospital right now, [for] at least a year," explained Levin. "It's just not realistic. And that kind of, you know, that kind of hurts too because I really—that was a huge part of my life."

For more than 30 years, Levin performed locally and around the world with artists including Gym Class Heroes, Metro Station, Train, Corn, Amanda Shires and even Aretha Franklin.

"It's been incredible," he recounted with a smile. "I was touring all the time, you know? And you know, working a lot. I was really busy... most of it was out on the road."

Looking back, even Levin admits he was running at an unbelievable speed every day. "I've gone full blast until, you know, till this stuff started going down," he said.

Like almost every musician, the pandemic screeched life to a halt.

"You don't realize how much for musicians when the gigs are taken away, and you're not playing in front of a crowd and getting that energy, it's pretty depressing," said Levin. "You're like, 'Wow, this whole side of me has been just torn away.'"

Grammy-Nominated Musician Peter Levin in his home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, with his golden piano he shared with Stevie Wonder.

Levin moved his primary residence to Nashville during the pandemic and started producing and streaming from his home studio.

"It was devastating for musicians for everyone in the business I mean, you know, musicians, crew folks, lighting, drivers, I mean, the whole the whole way the whole list," explained Levin. "Even though it was challenging sometimes, I thought, 'You've been given this time as a gift. You know, what are you going to do with it?'"

Levin said although it was tough during the height of lockdown, music kept him going until gigs started booking again.

In August 2021, he had his own record release party at a venue in Nashville.

"But after the gig, I couldn't catch my breath. And I was like, wow, this is kind of weird," recounted Levin.

He said he drank some water, shook it off and went on greeting all the guests before going out to the parking lot to jump on a friend's tour bus to play on the next leg of his tour.

"I got on the bus and I still couldn't breathe and you know, about 30-40 minutes into the ride the tour manager... was like, 'Man, you don't look so good. What's going on?' 'I can't really breathe that well. My chest is tight.' And that's all he needed to hear," recounted Levin.

"He told the bus driver to pull over... Luckily we were still 30 miles from Nashville," said Levin. "In the ambulance, the EMT hooked me up to the machine and was like, ‘Wow, buddy.’ He was like, ‘You, you've been racing on your 194 beats per minute for 40 minutes'...He actually said to me he goes, 'You know, not to make you nervous or anything but like, I'm surprised you're still with us.’"

Grammy-Nominated Musician Peter Levin played on the piano he shared with Stevie Wonder in his home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, three months after his heart transplant.

Doctors got his heart arrhythmia under control at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville and he was released. But three weeks later, he wound up in the ER again only to find out his heart function was plummeting.

By November, he learned his heart was only working at 15% function and he needed a heart transplant.

"I was like, what are my other options? Doctor said...'Your other option is death.' So I was like, 'OK, well, I guess I'll get the transplant,' said Levin.

Two days later he had a successful emergency heart transplant.

"When I was recovering in the hospital, my wife brought me a piano, and like, I was trying to show off and everything and I was like...‘What song do you like?’" recounted Levin. "One of the nurses was like, ‘Oh, play some Billy Joel.' And I remember sitting at the piano and trying to play it. And my hands just — they wouldn't work right. And I was like, ‘Man, I'm not this bad believe me, I'm not this bad. Like, I'm really pretty good.’ But my hands weren't working. So literally, I literally had to find my rhythm."

Once home from the hospital, Levin started his new life with a new heart in a pandemic.

"I'm definitely trying to be safe. You know, basically, in a situation like this, you trade your immune system for a new heart," he said.

That trade-off means Levin likely will not go on tour buses anymore but rather produce and play music in more of a local or short trip capacity—a significant change for an accomplished musician like Levin.

"Now coming on three months, I'm finally starting to feel a little bit myself. I mean, if you're talking about, you know, someone that's had a transplant it's pretty brutal, the transition. You know, you're on a ton of medication as a kind of side effects. I take medication four times a day, and a lot of—some of them are like 20 pills at a time," stated Levin. "They make headaches and make you nauseous and that can, you know, weigh down a little bit. Make the sky seem not so bright sometimes...You gotta do something positive and encouraging whatever that is."

For Levin, that meant diving into music again.

"I've been going through a lot of old music that I've played with friends over the years and just kind of getting some smiles from that," said Levin. "Maybe it's just going for a walk in the park, taking some time for yourself, or maybe it's, I don't know, some folks meditate."

During Heart Month in February 2022, the American Heart Association encouraged all to "Reclaim their Rhythm" to take back control of physical health and mental well-being after the harshest parts of the coronavirus pandemic that left 1 in 5 people reporting lower physical wellness and 1 in 3 reporting lower emotional wellness.

The American Heart Association offers five ways to reclaim your rhythm:

  • Mellow Out and Reduce Stress -Stress leads to unhealthy habits like overeating, physical inactivity, smoking and risk factors for heart disease and stroke-like high blood pressure, and depression or anxiety.
  • Move to the Music - Physical activity is linked to lower risk of diseases, stronger bones and muscles, improved mental health and cognitive function and lower risk of depression.
  • Feed Your Soul, Rock Your Recipes -Eat meals together as a family for a chance to connect and decompress. Regular meals at home with family reduce stress, boost self-esteem and make the whole family feel connected.
  • Stay on Beat with Blood Pressure - High blood pressure is a leading cause and controllable risk factor for heart disease and stroke and can contribute to worse outcomes for people who contract COVID-19.
  • Keep the Beat! Learn Hands-Only CPR - When a person has a cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately receiving CPR from someone nearby. Help your community reclaim their rhythm by learning the 2 simple steps of Hands-Only CPR: Call 911, then press hard and fast in the center of the chest.

Levin said he hopes others will take their physical and mental health seriously, "It's finding something that you enjoy, that will keep you positive. You know, don't be afraid to do those things when you're, you know, if you are feeling down because it will get better."

Grammy-Nominated Musician Peter Levin plays the piano in his home studio in Nashville, Tennessee, three months after his heart transplant.