Seventeen-year-old Olivia Ports first picked up the guitar when a rare immunodeficiency diagnosis forced her to quit gymnastics, a sport she had practiced throughout childhood. “I used to be a gymnast doing four hours of practice every day,” she said. “I went from having a super busy life to having so much free time. I didn’t know what to do until one day I picked up my mom’s guitar she had from high school. I loved it and I haven’t put it down since.”
Singing and songwriting have had such a profound effect on her life that she is now passionate about making music education accessible to people with disabilities and/or health challenges. “I see music as a way to empower individuals to find creative outlets and to engage in new activities,” said Olivia, who also teaches a music program at a special needs center in Aurora. “Every time I play, I’m always thinking about how grateful I am that I found music and the impact it had on my life.”
Diagnosed at 14 with a primary immunodeficiency and an autoimmune disorder, Olivia’s condition left her with a compromised immune system that puts her at a greater risk for severe infections. Several times a month, she travels from her family’s home in Aurora to Lurie Children’s for outpatient treatment. She sees a host of specialists including an immunologist, rheumatologist and gastroenterologist.
“Patients like Olivia were born missing some of the body’s immune defenses, and can suffer from complex chronic conditions including severe recurrent infections,” says Patrick Seed, MD, PhD, who leads Infectious Diseases and basic science research at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute at Lurie Children’s. “We are investigating the microbiome to understand how microbial communities change the trajectory of health and disease and contribute to Oliva’s and other kids’ conditions.”
A year ago, the young singer-songwriter spent her holidays at Lurie Children’s when she was transferred there after being hospitalized at a suburban hospital. A severe infection requiring extensive testing and care resulted in an extended stay, most of which she spent in isolation. Ever since, she has been looking for ways to supports kids in similar situations. This season, she’s setting her plan into action. On Friday, December 1, Olivia will host a concert at Rosati’s Pizza in Yorkville and is asking people to bring toys for patients at Lurie Children’s.
“Some teenagers in the hospital don’t have age-appropriate gifts to open on Christmas,” she said. She is encouraging people to donate toys for teenagers as well as infants and children.
The restaurant will also donate 10 percent of proceeds to the hospital.
Olivia will play an acoustic set of originals and covers of well-known songs. “It’ll be fun,” she said, “and it’s for a good cause.”
In her spare time, Olivia also serves on the hospital’s Kids’ Advisory Board where she shares her perspective on topics such as hospital décor and activities for patients and families.
Benefit concert for Lurie Children’s Hospital
1985 Marketview Drive, Yorkville, IL
Friday, December 1, 7:00-10:00 p.m.
Gifts must be new and unwrapped