At the Houston Symphony, we are always amazed by the kids that we work with through our education and community programs, but sometimes we encounter something so remarkable it takes our breath away. Through our new residency program at Waltrip High School, we recently learned of one story of the power of music to unite a community that we feel compelled to share.
“I’m just a simple high school student who likes being in band, playing percussion instruments” said Jose Tovar – a 15 year-old student at Waltrip High School. “Oh and something else,” Jose continued, “I have a heart problem, but that doesn’t really bother me since I am with the band. They have been like a real family since the first day I walked in. They have always been there for me when I needed help most.”
Now is definitely one of those times. Jose suffers from a complete atrioventricular canal defect. That basically means that there is a big hole in his heart that allows blood from different chambers to mix. A healthy human heart has chambers that separate oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to maximize effeciency. When oxygenated and deoxygenated blood mix, the heart has to work extra hard to try to get the same amount of oxygen out to the body so that it can function. This leads to a number of complications, including hypertension and ultimately heart failure.
After four surgeries, doctors have determined that Jose urgently needs a heart transplant. Unfortunately, heart transplants are prohibitively expensive. Jose’s family is looking at a bill for half a million dollars.
Fortunately for Jose, he’s in the band. As he told us, “If you want extra brothers and sisters, come here to the Waltrip Ram Band and trust me, you won’t turn back.” The Waltrip Ram Band has taken Jose’s diagnosis as a call to action. Band members are currently fundraising in every way they can imagine to help the Tovar family raise $500,000 for the heart transplant.
“I’ve been a part of few occasions where I have seen the power of this community come together so fast and so strong to make things happen,” said Waltrip High School band director, Jesse Espinosa. “I’m hoping this community can do the same for Jose Tovar. We need a miracle—Jose deserves it.”
“What inspires me to fundraise for Jose,” says classmate Jose Del Campo, “is the fact that even through his darkest moments, he manages to push forward and have the will to live. When Jose isn’t there, it feels as though a familiar and warm positivity that is usually living here is gone.” Another classmate of Jose’s, Teresa Landeros said “You hear stories like this every day, but when it’s one of your own people, it hurts to see them suffer such great pain. I miss his fun, spirited personality.”
When the Waltrip Ram Band performs—whether on the marching field, at City Hall or in concert—music clearly means so much more to these students than notes on the page—it’s about connecting with each other. “The Waltrip Ram Band is home and that’s where Jose belongs, with his family and friends, who care for him” says classmate Gissel Gomez. “That’s what motivates me to not only fund raise, but to also try my best in anything and everything I do with the band.”
The Houston Symphony has gotten to know the Watrip Ram Band pretty well over the years. We first partnered with the school in 2010, and the Waltrip Band was recently selected as one of this year’s High School Residencies presented by Occidental Petroleum. Our musicians have made regular visits to the school to help students take their music-making to the next level, and Waltrip band students regularly attend Houston Symphony concerts, perform in the lobby of Jones Hall, volunteer in the instrument petting zoo and attend rehearsals and masterclasses. In September, twenty-eight students from the Waltrip band even played traditional Peruvian instruments as part of the Houston Symphony’s Fiesta Sinfonica concert at Jones Hall, conducted by our Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada.
Our musicians are constantly inspired by the incredible students and overall culture at Waltrip High School. After a few moments of interacting with students from this school, their radiant passion, hard-work and drive is evident.
To help the Waltrip Ram Band family and Jose Tovar, visit Jose’s GoFundMe page. Sharing this blog post or the GoFundMe link goes a long way.