Musical passion emerges after brain tumor - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Musical passion emerges after brain tumor

James Kittel plays sax recently at Red Eye Brewing Company James Kittel plays sax recently at Red Eye Brewing Company
James Kittel developed severe complications after the brain tumor removal James Kittel developed severe complications after the brain tumor removal
James Kittel with the Wausau West Jazz Band James Kittel with the Wausau West Jazz Band

by Bryon Graff

RIB MOUNTAIN (WAOW) - At the age of ten, James Kittel of Rib Mountain went from a completely healthy kid to brain surgery patient.  He had a benign tumor removed and overcame very serious complications that followed.

Back to health, and in the final part of our two-part series, Kittel fills a void in his life.


Throughout the headaches the brain surgery, the swelling, the infections, the shunts in his head, the staples in his back and the IVs that bruised his body and learning how to walk again, not once but twice, James Kittel always kept a sense of humor.

James Kittel: "The doctor had gone out to make some preparations. I said let's put some humor into this. He comes back in and I said, 'Will I be able to play the piano again after this?' He said, 'Can you play now?"

I said no but I was hoping to.

And that's where life takes a turn. He always loved sports. But because of the soft spot on the back of his head, he could no longer compete in contact sports. A blow would be fatal. But what started as a joke soon turned into his next passion.

Dr. Mark Weissman/James' Neurologist: "I recommended perhaps he consider engaging in music and the study of music."

Katie Kittel/James' Sister: "What started as one dream, got his brain tumor, a different dream came."

James had some experience playing a recorder, so he tried the clarinet. That lasted until he discovered jazz.

James Kittel: "After a year, I started listening to more jazz music and I realized the clarinet really wasn't my thing. And I taught myself saxophone that summer. And that's just taken off."

He thrives at it. And moved to first chair in both alto sax concert and tenor sax jazz.

Nicholas Castonguay/Wausau West Band Director: "Without James it's very noticeable in the band, when he's there and when he's not there because the sound he provides is just impeccable."

Once a month James and the Wausau West Jazz Band play Big Band Classics at Red Eye Brewing Company in Wausau. In performances like this he gets the thrill he once found in sports.

James Kittel: "It's a huge rush and when it's all over I've never been happier."

Jane Kittel/James' Mom: "In the October concert he had a solo where he would walk to the front of the stage and he would play. When he was done he gave the crowd a wave and the crowd went 'woo' crazy and I think it's that same adrenaline rush and that performance part that he can get at the concert and after the concert that feels good."

Amazingly, James has done this with otosclerosis, which made him mostly deaf in his left ear. A recent surgery has slowly restored his hearing.

Castonguay: "His growth from a technical side has been massive and from an emotional side, really letting himself play through the horn has been quite the amazing journey."

Scars cover James' body, some hidden by that full head of hair. And they're reminders of what he's gone through but never a reason for him to ask "why me?" As his parents' journal said, it was the day the world stopped turning. But it picked up speed again and rolls with the rhythm of music.

James Kittel: "I've often thought about the tumor almost being a gift in that sense because if it wasn't for that I never would've gotten into music. I would've continued with sports and I'm really glad I got into music. I enjoy it way more than I ever enjoyed playing sports."

Tod Kittel/James' Dad: "Like James says, it's not poor pitiful us. It's an opportunity. It's something different that we wouldn't ever have seen him try if it wasn't for this tumor."

Dr. Weissman: "As a neurosurgeon, to treat a young patient like that and see them thrive in their life and make great choices and have the success such as James is very satisfying."

James is now at the point in his life, where he can share his story with kids who've gone through some of the same experiences.

And you can tell he's having a great time playing that saxophone.

Online Reporter: Bryon Graff

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