A seriously ill teen who dreams of a career on Broadway but could die if she sings in public says recording covers for the internet is her only escape.
Serena Schwerdfeger, 19, has the voice of an angel but is prevented from showcasing it on stage due to a mystery condition that rules her life.
The aspiring star lives with a primary immune disease which doctors have been unable to diagnose as she exhibits characteristics from four different illnesses.
She must wear a mask and medicine-administering backpack whenever she goes out in public because she is so susceptible to infection, and a simple virus could prove fatal.
To strengthen her immune system, Serena also undergoes grueling chemo-like IV antibody replacement therapy every three weeks which leaves her sick for days.
But after years of treatment, her body has become resistant to antibiotics used to fight infection which makes treating her illness even more difficult.
The teenager and her mum Lisa Lewis, 56, of Pensacola, Florida, travel all over the US to visit physicians and researchers in the hope of getting a diagnosis.
Serena, whose artist name is Serena Joy, says music has become an escape from the hardships of her disease, and whenever she is well enough, she is singing.
Though her health has declined in recent years, the musical teen dreams of studying musical theatre and launching a career on Broadway if doctors find her a cure.
The talented youngster, who posts covers of Christian songs on her Facebook page, said: “I have been in and out of hospital all of my life.
“I can’t really go outside because I’m exposed to infections, and when I do I have to wear a mask.
“I usually have to wear a backpack too which gives me medicine constantly through the port in my chest.
“Music has always been my comfort though. Singing has been my escape.
“When I’m feeling well enough I love to sing to the patients getting chemo because I get my treatment there too.
“As I’ve gotten older, my condition has continually worsened but when I get better my ultimate goal is to study musical theatre and dance.
“I would love to work on Broadway. That’s my dream.
“When I get better my goal is to start playing and singing in public, when I’m not so immune compromised and it won’t kill me and I don’t have to wear a mask everywhere.
“I also want to travel. Traveling now is difficult, because of germs, public restrooms, and crowds.
“Every month I have multiple infections some viral, some bacterial, both at the same time a lot.
“When I have a good day, I live life in fast forward, packing and pouring as much into each good day as I can.
“It’s been more than a year since I’ve had two well weeks.
“Too much of the time I am looking out at the world going by, and my music makes me feel connected in ways I absolutely can’t be now.
“I pour all of the yearnings, desire, and emotion that would go into relationships, into my music as a positive outlet.”
Serena’s mum Lisa, gave up her career in marketing to care for her daughter and now works two part-time jobs to cover the everyday expenses that come with Serena’s care.
The family are currently campaigning to raise funds for a stem cell treatment, which could help boost Serena’s immune system and help her live a more normal life.
Lisa said: “There is an urgency in having the stem cell transplant before she contracts something that her weakened immune system would be unable to overcome.
“She gets an infection every month without fail and we have been in and out of the hospital ever since she was a little girl.
“Sometimes after the treatment, Serena has what we call a well week – which is a week where she is feeling okay.
“These happen about eight weeks a year.
“She makes the most of that time, she goes outside, we go to the beach together.
“When you are as sick as Serena is, you have to live life in fast-forward when you are feeling well.”
Despite everything she has been through, Serena is hopeful she will one day be free of the illness that has ruled her life for so many years.
“There’s no way to stay upbeat all the time, especially when you’re lying in hospital with needles in your chest, extremely unwell and out of it; when you can’t even wash your own hair.
“I try my best to stay positive and music helps me do that.”
To donate to Serena’s campaign visit: https://www.gofundme.com/serenasjourney