Benefit concert aims to help pay patient’s medical costs

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Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, a rare lung disease, caused Fernando Villa to miss most of his senior year of high school because of 15 hospitalizations to undergo treatment. Villa’s family and friends aren’t willing to let him miss out on any more of his life, so they turned to the UT community for help.

Villa, an 18-year-old graduate of Travis High School, received a double lung transplant earlier this week at the University of Texas Medical Branch/John Sealy Children’s charity hospital in Galveston, but his family needs to pay about $26,000 in post-surgery rehabilitation that Medicare won’t cover.

To help Villa and his family, premed senior Rodolfo Rodriguez and social work sophomore Juan Benavides organized the Make It Happen benefit concert, which takes place
today from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Main Mall. Students will be able to donate money to Villa and his family via UT student group Global Medical Training.

“We’re trying to raise money, and get the message across that students can really make things happen,” Benavides said.

Since his surgery, Villa is doing well. Rodriguez said he hopes that Villa will be able to move forward now.

Villa played the cello before falling ill, and has ambitions to become a musician. He has a passion for Mariachi music, which is why local bands Mariachi En Fuego, Mariachi Relampago and Mariachi Corbetas will perform at the concert.

“It broke my heart that he wouldn’t have any opportunities,” Rodriguez said. “His health is causing problems for him, and I want to see him blessed with the same opportunities that I had.”

Rodriguez and Benavides came up with the idea for the event about two weeks ago after hearing about Villa on the news. They decided to do what they could to help, and started the process by contacting Villa’s sister, 2002 Travis High School graduate Linda Santos.

The coordinators created a Facebook event to spread the word, and are asking the UT community to help promote the concert by sending invitations and passing the information on to their friends.

Beta Upsilon Chi, Brothers Under Christ, is hosting the concert, but Rodriguez and Benavides are urging other student organizations to get involved in the effort. Any organization interested should refer to the “Make It Happen” Facebook page for more information.

Santos recently hosted a benefit dance for Villa on Oct. 7 at Club Escapade 2000, which donated about $1,300 in entrance fees for the night and will host more events in the future.
Austin businesses have raised about $3,000 more.

Santos said she is very grateful to UT students for showing support.

“There’s no words to describe how appreciative I am,” Santos said. “It just goes to show that it only take one person to make a difference. It’s amazing to know that there are about 50,000 students at UT, and each of them have it in their grasp to help my brother fight this battle. All they have to do is say ‘yes’ to making it happen.”