As her son approached the stage, Marlene Pacheco sat in a chair and motioned the sign of the cross. Aaron Pacheco’s name was announced on the loudspeaker, and the Palmer High School crowd cheered.
Like a rock star, 14-year-old Aaron — with accordion strapped to his chest — made his way through the red curtains and waved to the crowd. Tears welled in Marlene Pacheco’s eyes. She sat back and took it all in. No one would have guessed that about 13 years ago, Aaron suffered from aplastic anemia, a disease that destroys bone marrow and makes it almost impossible to fight infection. Doctors thought he’d die within a year. His case drew national attention as his parents coordinated numerous bone marrow drives to find a match for their son. They also highlighted the need for eth- nic minority donors. They found a donor when Aaron was about to turn 2, and Aaron has carried on his family’s love of music since. “I feel happy inside,” said Aaron, pausing between the handful of performances this week at Palmer. “I just always thought I grew up like a regular person.” The ninth-grader at Palmer is a successful musician who performs all over town. This week, he’s performing at various Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The slight speech disorder and hearing loss he was left with don’t stop the self-proclaimed “accordion rebel.” Aaron plays the jazz guitar, drums and saxophone in three bands at school. In his parents’ band, he plays the accordion and bajo sexto, a Mexican guitar. He created Conjunto Illusion, a five-piece Mexican band made up of his high school friends. He doesn’t speak Spanish but learned the words to his Tex-Mex songs. He has never been to Mexico but dances folklorico, a type of music found in different regions of that country. He calls his room Mexico, where a green, white and red flag hangs from the ceiling. “At night, I turn off the lights, turn on the disco lights and stare at the ceiling,” Aaron said. “I imagine myself on stage.” His mother attributes Aaron’s larger-than-life personality and never-ending determination to excel in music to his childhood health problems, in which he was so close to death so many times. “Because he was a miracle child, he set this precedence so high that he has to do more and more,” Marlene Pacheco said. “It’s like if you can overcome cancer, you can overcome anything in life.” Aaron disagrees, saying his drive for stardom comes from growing up in a musical family. He doesn’t remember much of his health problems, only the doctor visits and the time he met his donor. Maybe his mom would be right, Aaron said, if say, he were in a wheelchair or stricken with cancer as a teenager. “I don’t think it was that bad,” he said. But Marlene Pacheco knows better. Being sick changes a person, and even though he was too young to understand, someone high above told Aaron to make the most out of life, she said. “I think God gave him a little extra of something,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s a little extra of something.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1669 or firstname.lastname@example.org