Issue: August 2009
August 01, 2009
4 min read

NY surgeon survives lightning strike and discovers a surprising musical ability

Anthony D. Cicoria, MD, has gained notoriety from his near-death experience and music-filled dreams.

Issue: August 2009
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The first CD of music written and performed by orthopedic surgeon Anthony D. Cicoria, MD, a novice piano composer, contains 27 minutes and 44 seconds of haunting themes, pensive melodies, sudden crescendos and peaceful interludes that should appeal to many listeners.

However, most will likely listen a little closer to this CD released last year once they learn Cicoria did not get to where he is today musically, which includes playing sold-out concerts, by practicing or studying composition.

Cicoria became a pianist and composer by accident.

Near-death experience

In 1994 Cicoria was struck by lightning and suffered cardiac arrest. The way he tells it, he briefly died, saw himself dead on the ground in an out-of-body experience and, for some unknown reason he is still grappling with, lived to tell his amazing story.

With this new “life” came an implausible change in a man who worked 10- to 12-hour-days as the only orthopedist in Chenango County, N.Y., and enjoyed life raising his three children, but had little time for much else.

“It was just a few weeks afterwards when I started to have a craving to hear classical piano music,” Cicoria told Orthopedics Today.

The craving was so strong he felt compelled to drive nearly an hour to the closest large music store and purchase a CD of Chopin piano music. He soon acquired a piano.

“And that’s how it all started,” according to Cicoria.

Anthony D. Cicoria, MD
Cicoria is the only orthopedist in his county. He must fit his piano practicing, composing and performances into his busy surgical and office schedule.

Images: Cicoria AD

Music in dreams

Cicoria eventually learned to play the piano studying on his own and later starting lessons in 1998 with Sandra McKane, who was trained at the Julliard School.

After the accident, pieces of complex music started coming to him in dreams or emerged when he was playing other composer’s works, haunting him until he could get them notated, which he did with special computer software and help from McKane and others.

Now when Cicoria writes, “The music comes and unfolds,” he said.

Publicized case

Cicoria admitted that dealing with this new musical component of his life over the past 15 years has not been easy, especially at first.

“Somehow, I had deluded myself into thinking the only reason I had survived had something to do with this music. I really became a bit of a fanatic about it,” he said.

Cicoria connected in 2006 with world-famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, MD, FRCP, who helped him gain insight into the possible causes of his unusual new musical abilities. After that meeting, Cicoria’s story was widely covered by the media, including a BBC television feature and a piece by Sacks published in The New Yorker in 2007.

Cicoria has since heard from others who underwent equally unusual experiences and from some who claim his music healed their chronic pain or affected them in other positive ways.

Wake-up call

Fortunately, there were few physical sequelae from the lightning strike.

“I had a burn on my face where [the lightning bolt] went in and on my foot where it came out, so I had gotten hit pretty hard. Although for a week afterwards I was pretty fuzzy, it eventually cleared,” he said.

Immediately following the lightning strike, “I was not sure what it all meant other than the fact it was kind of a wake-up call.”

Tests showed no changes to Cicoria’s brain that might account for his new-found music ability, however Sacks developed theories about what happened. “He thinks there had to have been some rewiring of my brain because I had a presumed cardiac arrest,” Cicoria said.

Cicoria playing piano
After surviving a lightning strike, Anthony D. Cicoria, MD, suddenly wanted to play the piano and started composing music. He now urges his children and others to follow their passions in life because they will always lead to happiness.

Musical gene

Before 1994, Cicoria’s musical interest pretty much consisted of listening to rock and roll. “There was not much of anything else,” he said. His formal music training included a year of piano lessons when he was 7 years old which he disliked.

“There must be some sort of a music gene in the family. One of Dr. Sacks’ speculations is this gene was there in the brain and the lightning has allowed it to be expressed,” Cicoria said.

Before all the publicity emerged, Cicoria said he was reticent about discussing his experiences. “It almost sounds a little bit on the fringe of reality. It is not exactly the kind of thing you want to portray as a physician and surgeon.”

“Until Sacks took it out of the closet, it was my private little story and my private quest for music. All of a sudden it was everywhere. Perhaps it was supposed to be that way. That is why I have got to laugh and say it has taken on a life of its own, because had it been left up to me it would still be in the drawer. It would be between me and my muse, whatever that is.”

With more concerts scheduled and a symphony, two concertos and other pieces in the works, Cicoria is far from locking his talents away. He hopes to eventually transition to where music is the centerpiece of his life, but “I also do not see myself just quitting orthopedics either. It will be an interesting next 5 to 10 years.”

For more information:
  • Anthony D. Cicoria, MD, can be reached at P.O. Box 271, Norwich, NY 13815; 607-337-4700; e-mail: