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Local girl receives gift of life and song
Sep 01, 2006 12:00 am
Ask aspiring country singer Krystal Marie Wuenst who she sounds like and she'll give you what at first glance seems the obvious answer.
"I sound like myself," said the 15-year-old girl who hails from Winchester, Va., the birthplace of Patsy Cline.
While the Gordonsville High sophomore admires the late country legend, she has a voice all her own. Even her cover of Cline's "Crazy," written by Willie Nelson, sounds like no one else except Krystal Marie.
Seeing Krystal Marie on stage, you'd never know it's a miracle she was singing her heart out at the Wilson County Fair this week.
And with this 15-year-old girl's surprisingly powerful vocals, it seems almost impossible she couldn't even breathe the day she was born.
But nine surgeries later, the little girl who doctors didn't give more than a year to live has followed in the footsteps of many a singer before her: Her family moved from their Virginia home several years ago to Brush Creek area of Smith County, closer to Nashville and closer to local songwriters who have been writing with her.
She put out her debut CD, "Bring It On," in 2004, a title she chose.
"I'm a fighter," Krystal Marie notes.
'Bring It On'
Born with Pierre-Robin Syndrome, Krystal Marie has been battling literally since the moment she was born.
Her mother, Donna Wuenst, said the condition starts when the baby's jaw fails to drop properly during gestation. It caused Krystal Marie to be born with a cleft palette as well as a severely constricted throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe.
Her mother, Donna Wuenst, remembers vividly the agonizing first few days and weeks of Krystal Marie's life.
"When she was first born (doctors) didn't know what it was," Donna Wuenst said, saying Krystal "She quit breathing every time you tried to feed her."
The doctors in Winchester sent her to the Charlottesville University Hospital in Virginia where doctors told young Krystal's parents about her condition.
An effect of Pierre-Robin syndrome is there is simply not enough space in the airway.
"Compare a coffee straw to a drinking straw – that's a fair comparison," Donna Wuenst said.
So to solve this, doctors suggested a surgery which would have adhered her tongue to the floor of her mouth, but parents Donna and A.J. Wuenst decided against it.
"We prayed on it that night," Donna Wuenst said, "… then decided we'd get there an hour before the surgery and both sign so neither of us could point fingers.
But when they arrived at the hospital the next morning, Krystal Marie received what her mom calls "our first miracle."
"The doctor told us, 'Every time I think she's going to go left, she goes right," her mother said. "… She took a turn in the middle of the night for the better.'"
But the fight was nowhere near over for Krystal Marie. She remained in the hospital for another six to eight weeks.
"You couldn't even hold her like a baby," Donna Wuenst said. "You had to hold her almost upside down. She had to eat with a special bottle. … They really didn't think she'd live a year."
But live a year she did, and around Krystal's first birthday doctors again said she wouldn't likely live to see two.
Yet Krystal Marie turned two, then three, and kept right on going, but it wasn't easy. The future singer endured nine surgeries, and finally was able to sleep without any machines helping her breathe at age eight.
She continues to have some medical issues. An eye condition had parents fearing she was going blind, even going so far as to learn more about seeing-eye dogs.
"We were devastated," Donna Wuenst said. "And she said, 'God put me here. He's going to see me through this.'"
And the nearly legally-blind young girl "received another miracle."
A new contact lens designed especially for her eye condition has her seeing nearly perfectly, her mom said.
She will still face surgeries in the future, but her parents believe she's ready to fight as long as it takes.
"With the eye thing, I almost cry talking about it right now," Donna Wuenst said. "… Her dad was in tears, and here's a kid saying, 'God will prevail.' I wish I had her faith. Don't get me wrong, I believe … but she's not a 'Poor me' kid. She's a fighter. The last thing in the world she would want is for someone to take pity on her."
'An amazing gift'
While her early childhood years were filled with struggle, she also discovered she loved singing.
Her mom remembers her singing "Colors of the Wind" from the film Pocahontas in the car, and she continued singing informally until she won second place in a singing contest when she was in the fifth grade.
After that she received a scholarship to the conservatory at Shenandoah College and sang with the Blue Ridge Choir at Carnegie Hall when she was 13.
Her first CD featured a variety of original songs, including one she wrote herself. She has continued to write, and she performed one of the songs, "Baby, Rip My Heart Out," at the Wilson County Fair Wednesday night.
"She wants to sing country … she loves the old ballads," Donna Wuenst said.
Even battling bronchitis as she was waiting at the fair to sing Wednesday, her dad A.J. pointed to his daughter's resilience.
"You'd never know by looking at her, listening to her, that anything was ever wrong with her," A.J. said.
In addition to her five performances at the Wilson County Fair, this year she's performed in Nashville at the Old Nashville Palace, the Wildhorse Saloon, DeKalb and Warren County fairs, numerous venues in Virginia and at Dollywood.
Krystal Marie said fairs were among her favorite places to perform.
"Everybody comes to the fair," Krystal Marie said with A.J. Wuenst sitting nearby. "As a kid I was always telling my mom, 'The fair's coming in two months,' didn't I?"
"Uh huh," her dad replied.
She plans to keep on singing and hopes to be the next young female country star, but plans on going to college in Florida to study marine biology.
And while like any proud parents, Donna and A.J. want her to succeed in whatever she does. But at the same time, perhaps more than others who haven't faced the same struggled, they immensely appreciate where they are today and to see and hear Krystal Marie on stage.
"God has just given her an amazing gift," Donna Wuenst said.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.