Star Tribune
Video (12:02) The Cuban-born jazz great was on a heart-lung machine for days, but survived his 2½-week ordeal in intensive care.

Anyone who has witnessed powerhouse pianist Nachito Herrera in concert knows he's an unstoppable force. COVID-19 found that out, too.

The Cuban-American star became the first well known Minnesotan to get the coronavirus. He spent 18 days in the ICU, becoming one of the first of two Minnesota patients to survive COVID on an ECMO machine, a heart-lung device typically used in heart surgery.

While recovering in the University of Minnesota Hospitals, Herrera had a piano in his room. Since he returned to his White Bear Lake home in April, he has been practicing daily as well as doing physical therapy.

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Pre-COVID, Herrera, always looking for new musical adventures, teamed early this year with violinist Karen Briggs at the Dakota in Minneapolis, showing why he's the maestro of the mashup, blending styles in the same musical phrase in a program of Bach, Gershwin and "Guantanamera." He also works with large ensembles, whether the Minnesota Orchestra or the Habana Social Club.

A former member of Cubanisimo and the Afro Cuban All-Stars, Herrera moved to Minnesota in 2001. He has been a regular performer at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis. In 2014, he won the American Heritage Award, the first Latinx musician to receive it since Carlos Santana.