- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - While nearly everything in Sierra Frantz’s life has changed over the past four years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is her love for music.

She plays flute for Concord High School’s marching band, even though she has physical challenges that make band difficult for her.

In 2010 Frantz developed brain lesions, or abnormal brain tissue, after getting her back-to-school vaccines. Doctors initially thought she had brain cancer, and she spent three months at Riley Hospital for Children.

These days, Frantz’s brain doesn’t signal her esophagus to open so she can swallow food, drinks or even her own saliva - so she has a feeding tube and spits into a cup that she always has with her.

Frantz also struggles to walk in a straight line, and she uses eyedrops constantly to provide moisture for her left eye, which doesn’t produce tears.

These are just a few of the lingering issues that Frantz deals with on a daily basis, but none of it has stopped the 16-year-old from playing the flute in Concord High School’s marching band.

In fact, Sierra told The Elkhart Truth (https://bit.ly/1p2oNgl ) that playing her flute actually helps her control her breathing and strengthen her lungs.

“I don’t know what I would be without music,” Sierra said firmly during a recent rehearsal. “I’ve been working on my balance and my issues so I know how to handle them.”

She’s come up with some coping mechanisms, marking up her music sheets so she’s able to follow along even with inhibited vision, and playing most performances from the sidelines in her wheelchair.

During parades, Sierra’s friend and fellow flutist Gavin Kitch pushes her wheelchair, even adding in the spins and dance moves that other marching band members are doing.

“By letting her be involved, that really cheers her up,” Gavin, a senior, said. “She really tries harder than a lot of people in the band even though she can’t do everything.”

Sierra’s mother, Tonya Frantz, at first didn’t understand why Sierra wanted to stay in band when she couldn’t march.

“I told her, ‘You don’t have to do this. … I’ll come pick you up,’” Frantz said. “But it’s just her willingness to push on. You know she really wants to be here when she has all these complications and she’s still here.”

A couple years ago, band director Scott Spradling decided Sierra could handle marching a few steps at the very end of the show.

Sierra wasn’t convinced she could do it, but she tried anyway.

“The first time she marched was at a contest two years ago,” Spradling remembered. “And her dad was bawling like a baby. I don’t think he thought he would ever get to see her participate like that.”

Sierra still spends most of a performance in her wheelchair, but she’ll join the rest of the band on the field for some steps toward the end of the performance.

She says she never really marches in perfect step, but she gets better the more she practices.

“I try to stay in formation as much as I can,” she said. “If I stumble, I pick myself up. I never have fallen.”

Those watching Sierra perform today likely would never know that just four years ago, she wasn’t expected to live since doctors initially thought she had a brain tumor.

But the 16-year-old’s tenacity and love for music keeps her going.

“Sierra’s are some unique challenges that we haven’t had (in band) before,” Spradling said. “But we just kind of figured it out as we went. And she is a part of us; she goes everywhere we go.”

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, https://www.elkharttruth.com

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