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Paul Cardall's lucky day was Sept. 9, 2009. That's the day he had a heart transplant.

Immediately after the donor heart was placed inside his chest, the doctor, following regular procedures, reached for the defibrillator paddles to "jump start" the new organ.

But that therapeutic dose of electrical energy wasn't necessary. The heart, incredibly, was already beating.

The 36-year-old Sandy pianist and composer likes to retell that story as proof that he was meant to write more melodies and sing more songs.

Monday night, Cardall will take the stage for the first time since his life-saving operation barely five months ago. He will perform some of his most requested works, backed by a full band and string ensemble and accompanied by friends and fellow musicians Peter Breinholt, Sam Payne and Mindy Gledhill.

"I would be surprised [about a performance so soon] if it were someone else, but not with Paul," said Melanie Everitt, Cardall's heart doctor. She will be in the audience tonight, cheering him on. So will Cardall's wife, Lynnette, and their 4-year-old daughter, Eden.

It won't be easy, since anti-rejection medicines make Cardall's hands shake. But he's not worried.

"I'm alive," he said. "I'm not going to complain."

Cardall is especially excited to perform for the first time on the stately Abravanel Hall stage -- something he dreamed about while waiting for a donor heart at Salt Lake City's Primary Children's Medical Center.

Every night around 8:30, when the hospital hallways were empty, Cardall would wheel himself to a piano in nearby hospital wing. He would play for about 30 minutes, until exhaustion -- and the effects of 25 medications -- forced him to stop.

By then, he had grown accustomed to being tired.

Cardall was diagnosed with congenital heart disease shortly after he was born. Before he was a day old, he had undergone the first of several open-heart surgeries. At one point, his father overheard doctors saying his son would not live.

But they were wrong. Despite two more heart surgeries when he was 13 and 14, the boyish-faced and soft-spoken Cardall became an accomplished pianist, showing a gift for harmony and precision. After a friend died at age 17, Cardall began writing music to express his emotions.

During college, he played piano for tips at a Nordstrom department store and local restaurants. He recorded his first album, "Sign of Affection," in 1994.

Richard Paul Evans, author of the best-seller The Christmas Box , heard the album and asked Cardall to create a musical adaptation of his story.

Cardall then went to work at Evans Book Distribution as the music executive and served as a counselor for the Especially for Youth camps at Brigham Young University.

In 1999, he became a full-time artist, signing a multialbum deal with Narada, a division of Virgin Records. After releasing two albums, including a re-release of "The Christmas Box," he started a record label, Stone Angel Music, which he still runs.

Cardall knew that one day he would likely need a heart transplant.

He spent 385 days on the donor waiting list. Friends and family worried that his time would run out before a compatible heart was found.

"All of the waning hope was from other people," said Payne, who will perform tonight with Cardall. "His hope never flagged. Shame on us for our lack of heart and faith at times."

As happy as 2009 was for Cardall, the year was bittersweet for his family.

On June 9, his younger brother Brian Layton Cardall, a promising research scientist who suffered from depression, died after being shocked by a police officer's Taser gun. The highly publicized case gave Paul Cardall motivation.

"I felt I had to live for [Brian]," he said.

On the anniversary of his brother's death, he wants to scale Mount Olympus, a peak the siblings explored as youngsters.

Cardall admits it's an ambitious goal for someone recovering from a heart transplant, "but I know he wants me to do it."

A Celebration of Life

Pianist Paul Cardall performs, with friends and singer-songwriters Peter Breinholt, Sam Payne and Mindy Gledhill as guests.

When » Feb. 15 at 7:30

Where » Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $14 to $20 at (801-355-ARTS)

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