Back in July, I did an entry about an ailing Queensryche fan who got to meet Geoff Tate and the rest of the band. Sadly she died recently from the rare disease which she suffered from. Her name was Brittany Jo Woneis. My condolences go out to the Woenis family and her friends.
I know I haven’t posted in a while. everything is ok. I think I finally got busted by the Work Police. I have no web access at work right now. So I just thought I’d bring you this quick story about one of my favorite bands. My wife sent me this story. If it wasn’t for Queensryche me and my wife may not have met. But that’s another story for another time.
By Linda Castrone, Denver Post Staff Writer
How does a miracle begin?
A child in pain whispers a prayer. It is scooped up by her guardian angel, who draws it to her lips and blows it to the wind. It pierces the hearts of a dozen strangers, who move mountains to ease her suffering, if only for a moment.
In this case, the child in pain is 17-year-old Brittany Woneis, who was born with a rare but agonizing disease called epidermolysis bullosa that destroys her skin and soft tissues. Her prayer was to meet the rock star whose heavy-metal music is her constant companion.
Hospice of Metro Denver social worker Margaret Sharpe listened, and didn’t stop writing and calling until she captured the attention of Geoff Tate, lead singer of the band Queensryche, and his wife, Susan.
They were coming to Denver for a concert in July as part of Queensryche’s world tour and were touched by Brittany’s circumstances.
Says Susan, “The music must be something that enchants her. I told Geoff about her, and he said, ‘I’m not even worthy. Of course I’ll do it.”‘
With the Tates on board, the hospice worked with tour promoter Clear Channel Entertainment and Kroenke Sports Enterprises, owner of the concert venue, Universal Lending Pavilion. They came away with VIP parking passes and the pavilion’s two best boxes, then lined up transportation in a medical van.
By the time Brittany got her miracle last Tuesday, it had passed through 12 sets of hands. She arrived at the Queensryche concert with an entourage that included her mother, two uncles, one girlfriend, one social worker, four publicists, a reporter, a photographer and two on-site guides who whisked them backstage to meet the band.
And although about 3,000 other fans crowded into the pavilion to hear Queensryche perform, the band played especially for her.
Music helped ease pain
Brittany has been listening to Queensryche’s music since she was 3, she says, but since December she has been relying on it to get her through long, painful days. Her skin disease is now attacking the lining of her stomach, making it hard for her to absorb nutrients. With each pound she loses, she grows weaker and more susceptible to infection. Now only 36 pounds, she spends her days lying in bed or in a reclining chair, listening to music and watching TV. She hasn’t sat upright for months.
When Sharpe first met her, Brittany was discouraged by her declining health, but they found common ground in their love for music.
In mid-March, Brittany had another setback that hit her hard. The 32-year-old man who had been dating her mother died unexpectedly from an asthma attack.
“She considered him her dad,” Sharpe says. “When he died, she seemed hopeless. She told me she was miserable and ready to be done with this.
“Kids touch me,” she adds, “especially Brittany. She has been so cheated out of having more of a life, and there I was, powerless to help.”
Brittany resembles a rag doll, her lifeless limbs and torso covered with protective gauze bandages, her animated face and head the only parts left unwrapped. Twice a week the bandages are changed. It’s a process so painful she needs to be sedated beforehand.
As Brittany drifts off, and in between times when the pain gets unbearable, she slaps on her headphones and listens to Queensryche.
“When I’m not feeling good and nothing will make me feel better, I listen to loud music,” she says. “I wait for the, what do you call it? The adrenalin rush, and it makes me feel better.”
When asked if Brittany Woneis could meet him, Queensryche lead singer Geoff Tate said, ‘I’m not even worthy. Of course I’ll do it.’
Seeds of a dream
One particularly trying day, Sharpe begged Brittany for help. “I wish there was something cool I could do that would make your life better,” she said. “Can you think of anything at all?”
Ten minutes later, Brittany had two ideas. “I want to meet Geoff Tate, or I want to pet an orca whale.”
“Oh, gosh,” Sharpe remembers thinking. “What am I going to do now?” Then she got to work. Dozens of e-mails and letters later, she heard from Susan Tate. “I’ll do whatever you need,” her e-mail said. “Let’s talk details.”
By that time Brittany was fighting another infection and “was doing so poorly I didn’t think she’d make it,” Sharpe says. She’d like to think the news of her upcoming date with Queensryche helped Brittany pull through.
Susan Tate doesn’t always travel with the band, but she flew in to meet them for their Denver date. Before the concert, she was busy backstage lining up a private room for Brittany’s “meet and greet” with the musicians. Once the girl’s entourage arrived, she ushered in the band, then brought Geoff back for a more private conversation.
He and Brittany talked about how the group’s songs are written, how their videos are filmed, what songs their fans always want to hear. “The Lady Wore Black” and “Silent Lucidity” are enduring favorites, Geoff told her. The band plays them on each tour, alternating nights.
“Which one would you like to hear tonight?” he asked her. “You get to choose.”
She chose “The Lady Wore Black,” which wasn’t on that night’s set list. As she was escorted to the VIP seats in the heart of the tent, Geoff’s instructions went out over the crew’s walkie-talkies: “Brittany wants ‘Lady.’ Sub it in.”
Moving the stars
Susan and Geoff Tate have four children between them; other band members have three more. They often get special requests from fans but never anything like Brittany’s.
She’s not their average fan, for starters. Most are men in their 20s and 30s, Susan says. Many are cops, soldiers, computer jockeys and pro ballplayers.
Perhaps because they’re parents or because Geoff writes the lyrics that blast through Brittany’s headphones, they felt an irresistible urge to help. As the evening wore on, Susan flitted in and out of the VIP box, sitting beside Brittany and whispering encouragement.
After the show, she hugged Sharpe and promised not to forget Brittany once the band was back on the road. She also confided that, after the show, Geoff had been really quiet. “He was thrown off by how much it impacted him,” she told Sharpe.
Back in the VIP box, a little bubble of bliss surrounded Brittany and her entourage. Waiters and security guards wandered in and out of it, bringing her a sub sandwich and iced tea, and checking on her comfort.
When Queensryche finally came onstage, Brittany shifted into fan mode, singing along with Geoff and tapping out a rhythm on the plastic box that held her sandwich. When the spotlight shifted to Geoff at the front of the stage, she got quiet.
“‘The Lady Wore Black’ is the first song we ever wrote,” he began, “and tonight we’re gonna dedicate it to our new friend Brittany.”
Dressed in her mother’s black mesh top and shiny black pants, Brittany could have been the lady he was singing about. As he reached the refrain, she struggled to catch her breath, then began to cry.
The lady wore black
See the years through the tears in her eyes
The lady wore black
Her love can set me free.
As fans followed the singer’s eyes into the crowd, they swiveled in their chairs to watch the object of his ballad. Although momentarily in a fishbowl of attention, Brittany was unaware of them. Her eyes were glued to the stage and to Sharpe, who was blotting the tears.
Although already at its dramatic climax, the miracle continued a few more hours, as Brittany listened to another band, Dream Theater, and then was wheeled out to the souvenir booths. Fans along the way who might otherwise have stared at her bandages gave her thumbs-up signs, and one dropped a $10 bill on the counter and told an airbrush tattoo artist to “give the little girl whatever she wants.” (She picked a butterfly for her cheek and several more up the gauze of one arm.)
Buoyed by a giant adrenalin rush, she managed the trip home without anesthesia and finally fell asleep at 2 a.m. The next day, exhausted and feeling the aftereffects of a marathon day, she told Sharpe, “It was the best night I’ve ever had.”
Will the disease or the pain ease because Brittany shared a few hours with the band of her dreams? Most likely not, says Sharpe. But for one evening, an unlikely bond formed between a rock star and a teenage girl that altered them both.
I do not agree with Geoff Tate’s politics sometimes but the man is a hero as far as I’m concerned.