Cardiologists, health practitioners the lifeblood of Stevie V. & The Heart Attackers


Committed to medicine, music

May 18, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Your first clue is right there in the waiting room of Dr. Stephen A. Valenti's cardiology practice, HPV Heart, P.A. in Columbia. There, among the typical waiting-room magazines serving up the standard news, diet and fitness fare, is the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

Valenti, 55, is a committed physician who acknowledges that he does not get to listen to music in the car because he is usually playing "medical CDs" so he can "keep up on stuff" in the field of cardiology. But his passion for music will be expressed tonight alongside 12 of his regular band members and three guests when his band, Stevie V. & The Heart Attackers, performs at the Bicentennial Gala for the University of Maryland School of Medicine at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Cardiologists and health-oriented practitioners are the lifeblood of the band, which was formed in 1997. Valenti, who lived in Howard County from 1975 to 1988 before moving to Anne Arundel County, has been practicing at Howard County General Hospital since 1983.

"Johns Hopkins and Howard County General Hospital created a cardiac `cath lab,' the Central Maryland Heart Center - now it's part of Howard County General Hospital," Valenti said. "Different cardiologists were getting together, and some of us played instruments. Dr. Lowell Maughan - he's our drummer - it was kind of a mutual thing, we just wanted to put a group together to celebrate the opening of the cath lab at the VFW Hall in Ellicott City."

After that first gig, the band was invited to play for Heartfest, an annual fundraiser for the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center.

"This January will be our 10th year at Heartfest," Valenti said.

"This band is very well known, especially when you consider they only play once a year," said Mary Cain, special-events coordinator at the UM School of Medicine. "They are so professional - I have no doubt most of them could have been professional musicians, had they chosen that path."

Cain said the band is performing pro bono, and that the proceeds from the gala help fund the UM School of Medicine's missions in medical education, biomedical research, patient care and community service.

"The University of Maryland School of Medicine trains and educates over 50 percent of all active physicians in the state of Maryland," she said. "We have three alumni guests performing with the band, and many of the band members have done their fellowships or residencies at the University of Maryland."

"Most of us thought that music was gone from our lives," Valenti said, reflecting on his years studying with other former musicians at the UM School of Medicine. "But the spirit was there, the talent was there."

Valenti, who played in bands with classmates throughout high school and medical school, said: "It was a way of keeping sane. Music keeps you in touch with what's happening in the world. We [medical students] were so immersed in books and learning - music was a way of keeping things light.

"I enjoy music most because of the fun of bringing people together. It's a way to connect," he said.

Valenti first connected with music through his father, who encouraged him to take up the violin. "But I liked the guitar," said Valenti. "I could strum that, be more of a rhythm guy."

Valenti played guitar seriously, and studied seriously, throughout high school. He recalls rehearsing with his band with his school work up on the stand next to his music. Ultimately, he chose medicine, he said, because of his parents.

"I had very kind parents, who were always helping other people. I grew up wanting to give back, wanting to care for people," he said.

Even in setting up the band's rehearsals, Valenti shows extreme care. Everyone is busy, and he knows that a weeknight practice can be difficult for band members who have to get up early for work the next day, so he staggers performers, letting the brass go when they have finished their numbers, bringing in guest performers at a specific time.

At Tuesday night's last rehearsal before the show, the mood was focused but friendly. Vocalist Suzanne O'Keefe of Fork, in Baltimore County, belted out a sultry version of "Fever." By day, O'Keefe is a certified registered nurse practitioner in the cardio thoracic surgery division at the UM Medical Center.

"Anybody in health care today carries that level of being super-focused," O'Keefe said, on her way out after finishing her numbers. "But you know the left brain-right brain thing? We get to use the other side of our brains, to express ourselves musically. It's great. And the people that come to the event, well, they get to step out of their box, too."

Dr. Greg Mitchell, a nephrologist at Anne Arundel Medical Center, was waiting in the hall for his turn to rehearse, popping a throat lozenge into his mouth because he had recently come down with a cold.

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