OCTOBER 24, 2013 by admin
At 11, Taylor Carol was so sick he was granted a Make-a-Wish dream. At 18, he feels driven by God’s challenge.
BY THERESA WALKER
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
His pastor chose Taylor Carol’s song for Easter Sunday service at InSpirit Center for Spiritual Living in Mission Viejo.
“You Raise Me Up.”
Taylor Carol is scheduled to sing “You Raise Me Up” during the 11 a.m. Easter Sunday service at InSpirit Center For Spiritual Living Orange County.
The church is at 25782 Obrero Drive, Unit D, Mission Viejo.
To see video of other performances, go to taylorcarol.com
Taylor, who just turned 18, has the voice for it.
He sounds a lot like Josh Groban, whose version of the operatic pop-tune-turned-contemporary hymn got a Grammy nomination.
More than that, Taylor can bring to the song a special understanding of renewed life. Music and faith helped Taylor survive a life-or-death struggle that consumed his family for five years.
He was the boy with the terminal illness; the boy too sick for the Make-A-Wish dream he was granted.
He stared death in the face at the age of 11 with eyes as blue as the ocean near his home in Dana Point. In the end, death blinked.
Now he’s the young man talented enough to pursue a professional singing career. Or go to Harvard, where he has already been accepted.
He is convinced everything that happened to him as a child happened for a reason – to wed his love for music with philanthropy so he can help sick children get better.
“I didn’t understand why things were happening and why innocent children much stronger than me would die,” he says of the thoughts that kept him company as he fought his illness in a hospital isolation ward far from home.
God was challenging him, he says.
“It was something he wanted me to have to see what I needed to work on when I was older and just see what kind of a person I could be.”
A pitch that struck the left-handed-hitting Taylor at a youth league game in May 2006 fractured his right elbow.
Before that ball was thrown, his family – parents, Jim and Cynthia Carol; older brother, Brandon; and younger sister, Alyssa – lived a normal suburban life in south Orange County.
The children were healthy and into sports. Jim, who owned a successful software company, coached youth baseball. Cynthia, a nurse, became a soccer mom.
An all-star athlete, Taylor played football and baseball. And sang.
Drafted against his wishes for a fourth-grade play at St. Anne School in Dana Point, Taylor had to don a coonskin cap and perform a number about moving west to California.
He secretly sang in his closet at home but never in public. Not even to his family.
Jim and Cynthia got a call from the school. Did you know your son can sing?
They attended an encore performance the next day and joined in on the standing ovation for Taylor. Lessons with opera coach Kathleen Martin followed. He soon landed a paid role in “Tosca,” produced by the now-defunct Opera Pacific.
Between sports and performing, Taylor was quite the sensation.
But night sweats and fatigue troubled him after he finished playing Tevye in a school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” His parents thought he was worn out from stress and the long rehearsals.
Taylor also had bruises that weren’t healing. And then, the broken arm.
His pediatrician, noting how pale and lethargic Taylor appeared, sent the family to Children’s Hospital of Orange County. Tests showed that he had leukemia. His white blood cell count was about 25 times what is considered normal.
If you don’t get your son into remission quickly, his parents remember being told, Taylor will die.
Long way from home
Further tests on his spinal tap showed Taylor had Philadelphia chromosome-positive ALL, short for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The genetic factor occurs in less than 5 percent of children with ALL. It made his leukemia so powerful chemo alone couldn’t wipe it out.
So Taylor had two chances for survival: become a pediatric test case for an experimental cocktail mix of drugs or undergo a bone-marrow transplant that could disfigure him or kill him if it didn’t work.
Cynthia wrote the inventor of one of the drugs that Taylor could get, and asked what he would do if this was his child with this disease. He wrote back: transplant.
The Carols left Taylor’s older brother in the care of his grandmother so he could finish his senior year at Dana Hills High and took Taylor to Seattle Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center. The hospital’s childhood cancer survival rate was one of the two best in the country.
Alyssa came with them, attending a special school for siblings of cancer patients. She celebrated her 6th birthday in the hospital’s oncology ward.
Taylor spent months in and out of the quarantined loneliness of an isolation room, bombarded by chemotherapy to put his cancer in remission and radiation to kill his bone marrow.
His dad breaks down in tears thinking about how his son endured it all without a complaint.
“All he ever worried about was us and the other kids,” Jim says. “That was all he ever worried about.”
Another family that the Carols had met at CHOC, the Barkers from Laguna Niguel, also brought their son to Seattle for treatment. Christian Barker had a different form of leukemia than Taylor but also needed a transplant.
Christian was a little older than Taylor, a shy and quiet young teen with a deep sense of spirituality.
The boys became best friends, bonding over Lego and the video games “Spyro the Dragon” and “Mario Kart” when they felt up to playing. They’d tell each other “don’t give up” and talked about what they wanted to do when they got better.
Taylor also found joy in the unusual instruments that a music therapist named Matt would bring to him. He listened to everything from Frank Sinatra to the Beatles to the Killers, and he started writing songs.
He rarely had the strength to sing, but his parents could tell whenever he was feeling better because he would hum.
A man from Germany, the only match for Taylor, donated the bone marrow that saved his life.
Taylor later met his donor in a tearful surprise while singing at a fundraiser for childhood cancer research. Composer Mateo Messina accompanied him on the piano. Messina had visited Taylor in the hospital, writing symphony music with him.
Taylor performed while still in therapy at Messina’s annual symphony concert to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital.
He sang a song they wrote together called “True Courage.” The title comes from the “TC” stickers – for Taylor Carol; for True Courage – that youth ballplayers in Dana Point sold to help with the family’s medical bills. They also wore “TC” patches on their uniforms.
Taylor’s recovery was long and painful.
He had a pill box the size of a school binder for the 50 or so pills he took daily. He calls it “the least fun Advent calendar ever.” One medication made his stomach so sensitive he had to take nourishment intravenously.
Radiation stunted his growth. Nightly shots of human growth hormone for three years brought him to his present height of 5 feet, 11 inches, 4 inches shorter than his projected growth.
There were emergency room visits and more hospital stays after he came down with shingles and, later, swine flu.
He had not finished fifth grade and missed all of junior high and 30 days of his freshman year in high school. A teacher from the Gifted and Talented Education program at Marco Forster School in Dana Point came to his house to tutor him two hours at a time, a few times a week.
When he returned to school at Dana Hills High, he was still swollen from medication that kept his body from rejecting the foreign bone marrow. He felt especially lost and alone at lunchtime. With nobody to sit with, he’d call home.
The boy who, as a senior, would be named King of Winter Formal, spent part of his freshman year eating lunch in a car with his mother.
But the toughest blow for Taylor was losing his hospital buddy, Christian, whose body rejected two bone-marrow transplants. Taylor remembers a call he got in late December 2007 from Christian’s parents shortly before his friend died at 14.
“I had to say goodbye to him. … It was one of the most humbling things I ever heard – the sobs of his parents losing their little boy. It’s one of the biggest reasons I feel so driven.”
Taylor sang “True Courage” at Christian’s funeral. Christian’s mom gave him a medal like the one her son wore. It is engraved with words from Joshua 1:9: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Above and beyond
Taylor found his safe place on the stage, in his music, when he got involved with the South Orange County School of the Arts at Dana Hills High.
He finally got to fulfill his Make-A-Wish dream: voice lessons with the Los Angeles-based Seth Riggs, who has worked with the likes of Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson.
At 16, Taylor realized he was past his illness. He had a new focus: “I wanted to dedicate my life to the things that saved mine.”
He began traveling around the country to perform at fundraisers for sick children and pediatric cancer research. He’s sung or spoken at close to 20 fundraisers for Make-A-Wish alone, missing only one request because he was sick.
He’s performed the national anthem more than once at Clippers and Angels games. Dennis Kuhl, club chairman for Angels Baseball, says he was shocked at how professional Taylor was the first time he sang at Angel Stadium.
“He’s a special kid. He’s focused on what he wants to do and accomplish. He’s not letting anything stand in his way.”
Taylor guides his life by words he wrote on the wall of what used to be his brother’s bedroom but is now his music room: Modesty. Kindness. God. Determination. Confidence. Patience.
“I feel like I always need those words with me.”
He says being sick gave him a different perspective on Easter Sunday, on how much suffering there is, on how blessed life can be.
“I feel like my illness and just the circumstances have helped me rise above and give hope to other people.”