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James and Diego, waiting backstage for the show to start. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

Heavy metal dad and his band spread awareness and raise funds to fight cystic fibrosis

Meet Diego Sandoval, the bassist for the heavy metal band, Sevensins. A Cuban native who came to the United States when he was 24, Sandoval now headlines shows at bars and motorcycle clubs with his friends. But the love he has for his band is nothing compared to the love he has for his son, James.

When James was born, Diego said he couldn’t contain his excitement. Imagine the pain, then, as two years later James was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a potentially fatal disease that causes mucus in the lungs and other organs to thicken, potentially clogging air pathways and other vital organ systems. The disease is rare, having fewer than 200,000 U.S. cases annually, according to the Mayo Clinic.

James using a breathing machine to help keep his condition under control.

James Sandoval using a breathing machine to help keep his condition under control. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

Sandoval researched the disease and consulted with doctors. He received bittersweet news: Cystic fibrosis can be treated but not cured. Sandoval and his wife remained positive. They took care of James, hoping to ensure him a long and happy life.

By Josiah Ferrer
South Florida News Service
@SFNS_News • Facebook • Instagram

Things got harder in 2015 when the couple separated and she gained primary custody of James. Despite the separation, Sandoval made sure to regularly spend time with James.

“He has always been a young man that is very strict with his medicines,” Sandoval said in Spanish. “I think that has made him grow as a person, you know? Growing faster mentally because it’s made him more tough.”

While home one afternoon looking forward to the weekend, when he could see his son, Sandoval received a phone call from a friend who asked if he was available to play bass for a heavy metal band.

At first, Sandoval said he had reservations. He enjoyed playing guitar more and wasn’t sure about fully committing to the role of bassist. He also wanted to make sure his son was his top priority.

In the end, however, he decided to do it. It was something fun to do with his friends, he said, besides repairing motorcycles. Assuming the onstage persona, “The Snowman,” Sandoval joined the band, a positive outlet that supported him and James, whom he often brought to shows. The band treated James as their own.

Music became more than a hobby; it became it a bonding experience. James would look forward to weekends, when Sandoval and the band played, and he soon became a metal music lover and fan of he band. He even sold merchandise for them during events.

Jay (Front) and Diego (Back) performing at a Seven Sins show. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

Jay Ilera (Front) and Diego Sandoval (Back) performing at a Sevensins show. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

After a while, lead singer and fellow band member Javier “Jay” llera came up with an innovative idea to further help James: All proceeds from the band would go toward funding cystic fibrosis research. The band had previously been active in other charity fundraising efforts, participating in walks and other events. Sandoval agreed to the idea almost immediately.

“We would do walks, but music is what we like; music is what moves us,” he said. “Let’s do something that at the same time moves us but with twice the force.”

James and Diego, waiting backstage for the show to start. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

James his father, Diego Sandoval, waiting backstage for the show to start. (Photo provided to South Florida News Service)

James continues his daily battle but remains strong, continues to spread the word about cystic fibrosis and hopes to be a positive role model for others living with the disease.

Some days are better than others, but through it all, James said knows he has a great support group. He has a rocker dad who always has his back and a whole band behind him.

This story was originally published on MiamiStories.net on Dec. 13, 2017.

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