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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Patient Prodigy

Young Violinist Warms Hearts at Thanksgiving Recital

Caesar stands looking at his violin strings as he plays, in front of blue NIH banner in the atrium.

Caesar Sant, age 13, performs at the Clinical Center.

Photo: Debbie Accame

Collins stands playing guitar looking over at Sant playing violin, in front of blue NIH banner in the atrium.

Sant performed several songs accompanied by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.

Photo: Debbie Accame

Caesar, in white shirt and mask, holds bow to violin in side view that shows Robert Masi with hands on piano keys in the Clinical Center atrium.

Sant performs with pianist Robert Masi, an NCI postbac fellow.

Photo: Debbie Accame

Caesar stands proudly holding violin and bow in front of his NIH physicians and other health staff and the Clinical Center chaplain, with Collins in the middle

Sant (front) stands with his spiritual and clinical care team. (From l): Chaplain Michael Zoosman; Dr. David Lang, chief, CC Office of Patient Safety and Clinical Quality; NHLBI’s Dr. Matthew Hsieh, principal physician for Sant’s transplant; Collins; Wynona Coles, NHLBI research manager; pianist Masi; and NHLBI PA Triscia Martin.

Photo: Debbie Accame

Collins stands, bending down to hold the microphone as Sant speaks into it.

Collins holds the mic as Sant says thank you to NIH in a dozen different languages.

Photo: Dana Talesnik

Caesar and his father pose with clinical staff--all masked, except Caesar whose mask is pulled down to reveal a wide smile. Many multi-colored leaves are seen through window behind them.

A smiling Caesar Sant poses with PA Triscia Martin, his father Dr. Lucas Sant, and Dr. Matthew Hsieh at the Clinical Center.

Photo: Lucas Sant

Sant sits up in his hospital bed giving a thumbs up with Dr. Hsieh (pronounced "Shay") kneeling by the bed.

Sant with Hsieh, the physician who performed his bone marrow transplant

Photo: Lucas Sant

Father Lucas Sant, solemn with eyes closed, hugs his 3 smiling children

From l, Caesar's younger sister Helen, his bone marrow donor, with Caesar, father Lucas, and big sister Maria-Anita

Photo: Lucas Sant

Photo from behind shows Caesar with bow to violin, reading sheet music, in his hospital room

Caesar practicing violin while having chemotherapy in advance of his bone marrow transplant at the Clinical Center

Photo: Lucas Sant

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house on Nov. 22 when 13-year-old Caesar Sant performed in the Clinical Research Center atrium. Each sweet note of his violin was a celebration of life.

Two months earlier, Sant had a bone marrow transplant at NIH to potentially cure him of sickle cell anemia, a chronically painful blood disorder.

“Even when Caesar was in pain, he practiced the violin,” recounted his father, Lucas. “He found strength to hold it and play as if he wasn’t sick. It brought immediate relief for many hours. I’m always saying the violin helped to save his life.”

Caesar took up violin at age 2 and already was playing concertos by age 4. Then, over an 18-month period, he suffered multiple strokes. The third and last one was life-threatening and left him temporarily paralyzed. He had to relearn to walk and how to play violin.

Now, infused with bone marrow donated by his 6-year-old sister Helen, Caesar’s skin and lips are taking on a rosy hue. At the Clinical Center concert, his father beamed: “My boy is strong, and he is free of pain.”

Caesar opened the recital with Bach’s Air followed by Ave-Maria and several other classical pieces, accompanied on piano by Robert Masi, a postbac cancer research fellow. 

Dozens of patients, doctors and staff gathered around, distanced and masked, along with many listening in awe from the hallways above.

“Caesar is one resilient young man who, despite [his illness] has become quite the violin virtuoso,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who joined Caesar on guitar on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Malotte’s The Lord’s Prayer and You Raise Me Up by Brendan Graham. Responding to calls for an encore, Caesar played Bach’s Partita No. 1.

A grateful Lucas said, “I am forever an ambassador for NIH and the Children’s Inn,” where the two have resided for several months while Caesar underwent treatment at the Clinical Center. 

After the performance, asked how he was feeling, Caesar exclaimed, “I feel great!” 

The next day, Collins sent a Thanksgiving email to all NIH staff: “Caesar’s story is a stirring reminder of the fragility of human life and the gift of medical research...I am heartened to know that Caesar will go on to bless so many others with his extraordinary gift.”

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