Bruce Corbitt sits in his "Bat Cave" in the heart of Irving, discussing the cardiac calcium screening that may have prolonged his life.
He’s spent most of his life on stage as the frontman for Texas thrash metal bands Rigor Mortis and Warbeast. But the 54-year-old metal singer rarely drinks, doesn't smoke, and eats a diet that Jenny Craig would approve of. He does his best to control the energy, saving it for when he's behind the microphone singing thrash metal songs like "Krush the Enemy" or a track off the band's new studio album, like "Hitchhiker."
“If it came down to me needing to quit singing to live longer, I would obviously choose to be around and live longer,” he says.
In early January he discovered he had heart disease and shared the news with family and fans during a two-part Facebook live video. He posted the video because Warbeast fans were wondering what his heart disease meant for his band’s future. He and the rest of the band have spent the last year recording their third studio album at Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records studio outside of New Orleans. It’s currently being mastered, and they plan to announce a release date soon.
In the Facebook videos, Corbitt urged his friends in the metal community who met a certain criteria — men ages 40 to 65 (women 45 to 70) experiencing one or more of the following issues: diabetes, a current smoker, obese, family history of heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure — to get the cardiac calcium heart scan.
It’s only $79, he says, and it could save your life.
The scan gives a score rating from zero (no heart disease) to more than 400 (extreme high risk for a heart attack). Corbitt’s score fell in the 101-400 range, indicating coronary artery disease with a moderate amount of plaque and increased risk for a heart attack. “It’s easy to quit the good stuff once you know for a fact,” he says.
Corbitt quit smoking a year before he found out about his heart condition, and drinking soon followed. His improved diet caused him to lose weight, but he looks healthy, like his old self in a black metal T-shirt with a black Warbeast cap turned backward, long brown locks hanging as if Willie Nelson were his barber.
When his heart kicked into overdrive two years ago, Corbitt didn’t know what was going on. He wasn’t doing anything strenuous: just watching TV on his couch with his wife, whom he met hanging out at some of the local metal shows and married about five years ago. “I didn’t know what the fuck. I just couldn’t breathe,” he says. “I did a quick Google search and discovered I better go to the hospital.”
After his hospital visit, Corbitt went to see a cardiologist who told him he could try to beat his atrial flutter (abnormal rhythm) with diet and exercise or undergo heart ablation surgery. He opted to try diet and exercise and quit dairy products, lowered his sodium, increased his fruits and vegetables intake and cut his drinking to a moderate amount. “I didn’t eat 100 percent right,” he says. “We had what we called our ‘cheat days’” on the weekends when he “got to have fun” and splurge.
But those days are few and far between now.
A few months later, his heart kicked into overdrive again. He knew immediately what it was and checked his blood pressure. He’d been told not to drive himself to the ER again, so he called 911 instead.
“I reached out to my friends because I was scared I was going to die,” he says. “I had already lost my best friend right in front of me.”
His best friend Mike Scaccia, who was 47, had suffered a heart attack playing guitar on stage at Corbitt’s 50th birthday party. He died two days before Christmas in 2012. Corbitt wrote on his Facebook page, “My brother is gone. The only reason I am who I am is because of this man. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be in a band.”
After his death, Scaccia’s family also encouraged everyone to take better care of themselves and get a cardiac calcium heart scan. When Corbitt decided to quit smoking it took him a year, and his cardiologist later told him it probably saved his life.
But it didn’t keep him from returning to the ER three times that same week.
“That’s when I was like, ‘I can’t live my life like this. How can I do anything now?’ I was afraid to leave the house, afraid it was going to happen while I was on stage,” he recalls, sitting among the Batman and Beatle memorabilia that means even more to him since his older brother’s suicide in November 2005 and his father’s death in March 2016.
Before Corbitt was born, his older brother Jeff — who'd been reading a Batman comic — suggested to their mother that she name him Bruce. Jeff was also the one to introduce Corbitt to music. He still recalls going into his brother’s room when he was younger and seeing his brother listening to the Beatles on an old record player with a few high school friends.
The last time he saw his older brother alive, in 2005, they watched Batman Begins together. Corbitt had recently reunited with his old thrash metal band Rigor Mortis, and the band spent the night with his older brother, who lived outside San Antonio at the time.
Batman Begins was playing again at a hotel when he received the call that his father Jack Corbitt had died.
Corbitt thought he was close to death after his heart ablation surgery in August 2015. He’s not sure what had gone wrong, but he says it felt as if he were reliving the night he’d been stabbed multiple times in the '80s and fighting for his life once again.
“It was kind of like how it feels to be so tired and trying to stay awake to watch some great movie you want to finish,” he recalls. “You keep nodding off and fighting to stay awake over and over. If I didn’t stay awake, I would have died. The will to live really does make the difference sometimes.”
The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. They spent three days looking, but Corbitt’s vitals checked out fine.
A year and a half later, Corbitt says he felt better than he’d ever felt. He’d been playing shows with his band Warbeast and hit the recording studio to work on their third full-length album at Phil Anselmo’s Nodferatu’s Lair, to be released by Anselmo’s record label Housecore Records sometime this summer.
Then his 54th birthday arrived in December 2016, and he began experiencing more problems with his heart. Only this time it felt like a fish flopping around in his chest.
He says he may have fallen off his diet since it was around Christmas time, and he tried not to panic because he knew it would only make it worse. He didn’t call 911. Instead he asked his mother, who lives next door, to drive him to the hospital.
He learned he was suffering from an atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans currently live with it, the American Heart Association reports.
Corbitt calls it the twin brother of atrial flutter. He developed it after surgery and experienced it again not too long after his December 2016 ER visit. He decided to listen to Scaccia’s widow, Jenny, who started a nonprofit group in honor of her late husband called Mike Scaccia Rock Heart Foundation, and asked his cardiologist to set him up with a cardiac calcium heart scan, a non-invasive technique that calculates your risk of developing coronary artery disease.
He learned that along with his atrial fibrillation, he’s also suffering from coronary artery disease. He’s currently undergoing more testing.
Corbitt says he was lucky that he had health insurance at the time he began experiencing heart issues. He had signed up on the Affordable Care Act exchange. The insurance paid about 90 percent of his medical cost, but the 10 percent he had to cover still reached $13,000. He was just lucky, he says, that he has friends in the local metal community who care about him because they held a fundraiser and benefit show to help him with these expenses.
Since he learned the results of his cardiac calcium scan, he’s been sticking to his diet. “It’s a lot easier for me not to eat bad food,” he says and laughs. “But I’m doing my best trying to get people to sign up for the scan. It’s worth finding out now if you have heart disease. There are medicines to help and everything. It’s a matter of not putting it off. It’s so easy to put it off.”
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