What do you do to help a friend who is going through a hard time?
If you’re a member of the local music scene, you do what comes naturally — you organize a benefit concert. Chances are good that you won’t have to try too hard to get people on board.
When St. John’s singer/songwriter Jerry Stamp got some not-so-good news from his friend, Paul Heppleston in Pasadena, he was quick to react.
Heppleston is a substitute teacher known for producing musical events, giving kids a chance to perform before an audience. He hosts a series called “Mr. H. Presents: An Open Stage for the Underage” in the Corner Brook area, and over the past three years, has seen more than 200 youth take part. Earlier this year, he produced the “Make Music Happen” conference, bringing musicians like Stamp, Sherman Downey, Chris Kirby and Meg Warren of Repartee in to perform and conduct workshops with students.
Just over a month ago, Heppleston’s oldest daughter, six-year-old Stella, started having flu-like symptoms. Ten days later, when she wasn’t getting any better, Heppleston and his wife took her to the hospital, but at that point, it still seemed like she was suffering from a virus. The next day she began complaining of having double vision, so the Hepplestons brought her to her their family doctor. After appointments with an optometrist and opthalmologist, Stella was booked for an MRI. The MRI showed a tumour of an unknown nature on her brain stem. Before that day was over, the family had a flight booked to St. John’s to see specialists at the Janeway.
“It really came out of left field. Stella is a really healthy and active kid who has really not been back to the hospital since she was born,” Heppleston told The Telegram. “To find out that it was something as serious as it was had us floored. We’re right smack in the middle of something that every parent fears.”
Stella underwent an operation to remove the tumour within a week, and it was discovered to be cancerous. In a couple of weeks, she’ll start radiation therapy, followed by chemotherapy. Her treatment, from start to finish, will last a little over a year.
At the moment, little Stella — a bright and articulate girl, both her father and Stamp say — is unable to speak; a consequence of her operation.
“This is a normal side-effect of having the surgery that she had,” Heppleston explained, adding doctors had prepared the family for a temporary loss of speech. “It’s a normal way for the brain to conserve its energy and regenerate. Her level of comprehension is still really high, that hasn’t been affected at all. She’s able to communicate with us though directing her eyes or squeezing fingers and things like that, and she’s still laughing. That came back about a week and a half after her surgery and it was music.”
Stella’s prognosis is good — her condition is very treatable and curable — but her family will be away from their home and jobs on the west coast for some time. It will be the end of November before Stella will even be able to go home for a break, her dad says, and her younger sister, four-year-old Charlotte, is staying with her grandparents.
Stamp and his fellow King Nancy bandmates wanted to help their friend with living expenses while Stella is in recovery.
They found out the news on a Thursday — by Sunday, they had decided on doing a fundraising show.
“People started calling me, wanting to perform, and it’s at the point where I can’t possibly schedule any more acts because we’ve got a full lineup,” Stamp said.
“Songs for Stella” will happen upstairs at The Republic on Duckworth Street tonight. On the bill are King Nancy, Danika Drover, Chris Kirby, RocketRocketShip, Hillary Freake, David Guy of Dust Radio, members of Lady Cove Women’s Choir and Don-E Coady, who’ll also serve as emcee. There’ll be a silent auction with prizes from places like Raymond’s, David’s Tea and tickets to the NLC’s upcoming sold-out wine show, as well as door prizes and a 50/50 draw.
“It’ll be like all the good parts of the Regatta, minus the boat rowing,” Stamp joked. “Not sure how we can make that happen, but we’re open to suggestions.
“It’s just going to be a massive variety show and a lot of fun.”
The members of RocketRocketShip said their participation in the event was a no-brainer.
“Paul and the Heppleston family are the most kind and generous people we have ever met,” said drummer Jeremy Kelly. “Paul and his ‘Mr. H. Presents’ events have helped us along the way, with countless other artists, reach an audience that we would not have been able to (reach) without him. Stella is a beautiful girl, full of joy and life. We’re honoured to be able to help out in any small way we can.”
Stamp said he doesn’t have a goal in mind, but all money raised will go to Stella’s family.
“We’re hoping it will offset the cost of living while Stella is in hospital. If there’s a few dollars left over and they want to go on a trip with the kids, we’ll say go for it.”
Since Stamp announced “Songs for Stella,” a number of other fundraising projects have been announced on the west coast, one of them by students at Corner Brook High School who know Heppleston.
Heppleston and his family are grateful for the outpouring of love.
“I’ve been struggling to find that right words for it. I’m awed and I’m flattered and I’m humbled and I’m grateful and I’m all these things,” he said.
Tickets for “Songs for Stella” cost a minimum donation of $10 at the door, which opens tonight at 9. Anyone who can’t attend the show but would still like to donate can do so by visiting a Scotiabank branch and quoting account number 106030172480, in the name of Stella Heppleston of Pasadena.