Middle schooler using jazz music to recover after nearly losing life

Since the day Rome was born, singing has surrounded her at home.

The Covington Middle School Jazz Band has a unique group of musicians with an eclectic group of students, including a teenage girl whose story of perseverance is inspiring those around her.

Jazz is sometimes difficult to describe for those who haven't played it before.

Arnie Yanez has been a percussionist for pretty much his entire life, getting hooked on jazz along the way.

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As a former University of Texas graduate, he now is in his 27th year of teaching and is one of the band directors at Covington Middle School Fine Arts Academy.

"The articulation in jazz is very different," Yanez said. "The kids have to feel the swing and divide the beat up basically into threes. They've got to read and interpret the music differently."

Yanez is now the jazz band director, as his group performs at a lot of festivals, concerts and for the school.

"It's very, very competitive to get into the jazz band," Yanez said.

Anabelle Lujan is an eighth grader in the trumpet section of the jazz band and comes from a family with multiple musicians. She said she likes the freedom that can come with playing jazz.

"You get more of a groove when you get into jazz," Anabelle said.

Another eighth grader who got into jazz later than most of these middle schoolers is Rome Henderson, who has lived in Austin all her life. Since the day Rome was born, singing has surrounded her at home.

"I kind of just grew up around it and then picked it up," Rome said. "I was like, 'Oh, I like this. It sounds good to me.'"

Rome also has always had something in her life since the day she was born -- something missing.

"When I was born, I had a hole in my heart," Rome said. "They [the doctors] were saying eventually, you will get a heart transplant."

As she grew up, Rome didn't really notice too many issues with her heart or breathing -- until the middle of her seventh-grade year around the holidays.

"I started to feel like I couldn't breathe, and I went into heart failure," Rome said. "I started to just say, 'I can't do this. Mom, take me to the hospital."

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Rome went into the hospital to get that heart transplant she knew was inevitable.

What she didn't realize was the amount of time she would not only have to be in the hospital but also unconscious.

"I honestly don't remember being there that much because I was in an induced coma for a good chunk," Rome said. "Then I slowly woke up and started the recovery process."

Rome couldn't just wake up and get back to her normal life. With her new heart, she had to learn how to walk, jump and simply function. Along with getting comfortable with her breathing, Rome also had to rediscover something important to her: singing.

"I can barely talk, but I want to sing again," Rome said. "I knew I had to make it happen."

So as Rome was starting to get herself acclimated to life, she sent a video of her singing to one of her friends. While the video played on her friend's phone, Yanez was in the room and overheard something that piqued his interest.

"I heard just a few notes, and I heard a voice and I said, 'Who's that?'" Yanez said. "'What is that?' I said, 'Rome? Our Rome?'"

Rome was an involved middle schooler -- playing violin in the orchestra, dancing for the dance team and being a manager for the soccer team, but not jazz.

"I called Rome's mom and asked if she would be interested," Yanez said. "I could just tell her style of singing could work great in jazz."

"At first I was like, 'Oh, I don't know,'" Rome said. "As I thought about it, I eventually got hooked on it."

While Rome acted like she had to think about in her decision process, Yanez pictures his eighth-grade singer a little differently.

"She has never once said, 'I don't know if I can do that?'" Yanez said. "It's always, 'Yeah, I'll do it.'"

Xavier Chapa is an eighth-grader who plays in the percussion section for the jazz band and he echoed that sentiment from Yanez.

"It's really special to have her a part of this group," Xavier said. "She makes this band so much better."

Anabelle Lujan plays the trumpet for the jazz band, coming from a family of musicians like Rome. She said Rome's perseverance is something that inspires her.

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"She's not afraid to be herself in any room," Anabelle said. "She can brighten it up. She's been through so much and then it's nothing now."

"When she came back, her energy was so much different," Yanez said. "There was so much more. Everything about her was...it was alive and vibrant. I gravitated to that, and I wanted that for my entire band."

So now a little more than a year after almost losing her life, Rome has reestablished her singing voice and discovered a new musical genre in jazz. While it was obviously a difficult experience to go through -- especially for a middle schooler -- she is thankful to have had music to help her get through it all.

"Whenever hard times come around or anything, it's kind of what I want to do," Rome said. "It's really special for me."