By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Pete Huttlinger was born with a gift for playing guitar, a skill that took him to great professional heights. In addition to Emmy and Grammy nominations and a National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, he earned the praise of his peers; Vince Gill called him “wickedly gifted.”

Huttlinger also was born with a heart defect, a problem that challenged him as a youth and interrupted his adulthood. After years of battling heart problems and overcoming a stroke, Huttlinger died Friday following another stroke suffered earlier in the week. He was 54.

Huttlinger’s medical and musical odysseys traced to his childhood.

His congenital heart defect prevented him from being able to keep up with kids his age. Instead, he’d pluck a guitar or banjo.

“It was such a great source of enjoyment when I was watching them play football or just whenever I was alone,” he said in a 2013 interview with American Heart Association News.

He was 12 when he had his first open-heart surgery. Much to the annoyance of his nurses, he plucked a banjo while in his hospital bed.

Huttlinger went on to graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music and become a touring musician, working behind John Denver, John Oates and LeAnn Rimes. As a studio artist, he joined recordings by Denver, Oates, Faith Hill, Jimmy Buffett, the Nashville Chamber Orchestra and more. He released many solo albums, including a tribute to Stevie Wonder.

His life was interrupted in July 2010. Congestive heart failure prompted the implantation of a pacemaker-defibrillator. That November, he had a stroke that damaged his right side.

Through physical therapy, he relearned how to play guitar. Then came severe heart failure, which resulted in him receiving a battery-operated heart pump called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, in April 2011.

Huttlinger walked a half-marathon a year later and, in 2013, released a new album, “McGuire’s Landing,” which included a 52-page story that he wrote.

“I decided a long time ago, don’t just live, live well,” he said.

That notion came together while recovering from his LVAD operation, which in turn prompted his involvement with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, the nation’s oldest, largest voluntary organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

He volunteered in his hometown of Nashville, occasionally performing at events, including a dinner at last year’s International Stroke Conference.