SPOTLIGHT: Illness won't hinder teen's music hopes

By A. Marie Ball

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Published: Saturday, Jan. 14 2012 10:25 a.m. MST

ADVANCE FOR USE SATURDAY JAN. 14, 2012 AND THEREAFTER - This March 30, 2010 photo shows, Conor O'Brien, left, Andrea Heath and Jordan Fein recording sound tracks for the Student Film Club movie Even or Odd in Springfield, Il. Tuesday, March 30, 2010. Andrea suffers from a disease called NF2, which causes multiple tumors to grow inside her body. Diagnosed in 2005, the Springfield High School graduate’s condition is characterized by multiple tumors on the cranial and spinal nerves.

The State Journal Register,Ted Schurter, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Eighteen-year-old Andrea Heath is at war.

Just three years ago, she decided she would fulfill her young life's goal of writing music to accompany the lyrics she had spent much of high school penning.

She wanted to share them with her friends and fans, but most of all she wanted to hear the music, too.

Andrea suffers from a disease called NF2, which causes multiple tumors to grow inside her body. Diagnosed in 2005, the Springfield High School graduate's condition is characterized by multiple tumors on the cranial and spinal nerves.

This meant everyday actions were difficult for Andrea, including playing music. A large tumor had grown in her left shoulder.

It also meant the possibility of hearing loss. Tumors are also on either cochlea, which could cause deafness.

"I didn't think I'd be able to play guitar," she said. "It was very painful."

Instead of giving up, though, she pursued her passion for music.

"I figured everyone has some sort of limitation," she said. "And besides, if I didn't try now, I'd look back later and regret never having attempted to play."

She began singing for an audience by joining the Springfield school district Student Film Club, where she used her voice, acoustic guitar, soprano ukulele and mandolin to create musical tracks for the club's movies.

And while she enjoyed doing that, Andrea didn't plan on limiting herself to soundtracks.

"It was nice playing for the movies, but I'd never gotten to do anything on the professional level," she says, "And I felt like if I did that I would be able to reach out to more people."

So she's determined to record an album as soon as she can — with help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

In October, the foundation that grants wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions made hers come true after asking Andrea's doctors if they thought she was deserving.

They voted in her favor, and asked what her wish would be.

After a bit of thought, Andrea narrowed it down to two choices: a chance to play with a musician of her choice, or to create her own record.

The foundation decided she deserved both.

"The foundation really wanted me to be able to record an album, so they decided that I could meet a musician, too," she said.

Her choice was quick: New York singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, whose indie-pop melodies have been heard on shows such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "One Tree Hill." Michaelson's best-known radio singles are "Maybe" and "The Way I Am" (which was used in a television advertisement for Target).

"I chose Ingrid mainly because she's one of my favorite artists, and I've been trying to base my own musical style around hers," Andrea said.

The two met a few months ago in New York.

"I felt like Ingrid was a friend I hadn't seen in a very long time," she said. "She was hilarious and very sweet."

But their time together wasn't limited to jamming and getting to know one another. CBS' "Early Show" caught wind of Andrea's story and took an interest.

The network, which frequently covers Make-A-Wish recipients, followed the pair's time together. It also reported on Andrea's illness and included footage of Andrea singing with Michaelson on "To Hat" and "The Way I Am."

Afterward, Andrea performed her own song, "A Waltz For Lovers and Loons."

"I liked that it was something people could actually dance to," she said. "None of my other songs are like that, so I thought it was a pretty big accomplishment."

This is one of the tracks that can be heard on Andrea's album "War," a compilation of songs ranging from the classic love song to acoustic beats that mesh together to chronicle a different kind of war.

"I think we all face battles in life," Andrea said. "And at the end, we want to say we've won, and that's what this album is all about."

Andrea, who just moved to Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will record the album within the next six months in Springfield, she said.

"But it's the end result that matters, not how much time it takes to accomplish it," she said.

Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com

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