I hung up the phone with Lucas Santos shortly after making the call. He had just fixed up an old bike and was about to go outside to show his kids when he requested that I call back another time. I agreed, of course, and was immediately struck by the sweet nature of his request. (How often do we stop everything to just enjoy the moment? I know I don’t as often as I should.)
Santos, an immigrant from Brazil who currently lives with his family in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, called me back a few hours later. It was then that he proceeded to tell me the heartbreaking story of his son Caesar, who’s perhaps his main motivation for appreciating all of life’s little moments, like teaching your kids to ride their bikes.
Caesar is an 8-year-old music prodigy, who wants nothing more than to play his violin.
According to Santos, Caesar has shown an interest in music since he was 2 years old. The proud dad believes Caesar’s interest sparked while watching Baby Einstein videos, a cartoon accompanied by classical music, with his sister Maria-Anita.
One afternoon, Santos was talking in the kitchen with his wife Aline when they both heard music coming from the living room. Knowing there was no TV on, the parents went to see what was going on. It turns out, the music was coming from Caesar, who was playing the music he’d heard in a Baby Einstein video on his very own toy piano.
Soon after, the proud parents would learn that Caesar’s talents didn’t just end there. He would go on to excel in math and learn to speak five different languages fluently, including Greek, Chinese, Russian, German, and Hebrew. But most importantly, he’s found himself drawn to the violin.
By age 4, Caesar was performing pieces that kids at the age of 12 struggled with, and spent his mornings listening to and trying to compose songs by his favorite violinists. He lived and breathed music, and enjoyed every minute of it.
“He likes to smile and repeat, ‘I’m so happy, Papis,’” Santos says of every time Caesar picks up his violin.
That was, until Caesar experienced a series of strokes.
You see, Caesar was born with sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen. Those blood cells can then get stuck in smaller blood vessels, preventing oxygen to reach the rest of the body.
Not only can this be a painful condition, but it was also the cause of Caesar’s strokes, the last of which left him paralyzed for over six months. Caesar needed to re-learn how to do everything from walking to playing the violin. Santos also tells Babble that he can no longer speak the languages he once learned.
But Caesar persevered, eager to get back to his normal life. In fact, on Caesar’s very first day after leaving the hospital, Santos says he took his son to a violin lesson. And while he struggled to play as well as he had in the past, Caesar was comforted by the music that has always brought him so much joy.
“I’m always saying that the violin helped save his life,” Santos tells Babble.
The family is also doing all that they can to make sure this doesn’t happen again to their little boy — and that includes exploring all medical possibilities.
In 2014, after Aline learned she was pregnant with another child who did not have sickle cell anemia, doctors extracted blood from the umbilical cord so they could have the option of using it as a transplant for Caesar. Unfortunately, however, there was another catch.
While the transplant would have a 95 percent chance of curing Caesar, it’s a very expensive procedure and the Santos family’s insurance will not cover enough of the costs. Now, three years after Caesar’s last stroke, the family is still working to raise money for the procedure.
Santos has since set up a GoFundMe page and website for Caesar, and even appeared in a National Geographic segment featuring his brilliant son, in an effort to have him continue doing what he loves. And while the Santos family has raised over $38K so far, it’s sadly still not enough — to date, Caesar’s medical bills have amassed to over $500K.
In the meantime, Caesar is staying positive and enjoying each day as it comes. Thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he was given the one-in-a-lifetime chance to meet his idol, violinist Itzhak Perlman, in 2016. And earlier this month, he performed Beethoven before a crowd of over 2K people at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Resort.
After speaking with Caesar’s dad on the phone, you can’t help but be struck by the earnestness in his voice. Speaking slowly and passionately, Santos seems to want nothing more on this earth than to save his sick son, while also taking advantage of the time that he has with him.
As for Caesar, he continues to practice the violin, and hopes to one day make it on the Ellen Degeneres Show.
Wishing you the best of luck, Caesar. I have no doubt that you’ll charm the world (and Ellen) with your talent and compassion.