Colin Orth dreams of being a traveling musician. The teenager plays trumpet in the Chippewa Falls High School jazz band. “I love how it stands out. I like how you can always hear a trumpet in a band. There’s no hiding when you’re playing the trumpet,” Orth says.
Orth’s childhood wasn’t always so harmonious. As a newborn, Orth’s skin seemed to bruise easily, enough to worry his mother Angie Sterling-Orth. “He was bruised frequently,” Sterling-Orth says. “The baby is going to the doctor frequently during those first few months anyway for inoculations, and so I would bring those to her attention.”
Colin Orth was eventually referred to a hematologist. He was diagnosed with Hemophilia B at five months old. It means his blood is missing a protein that helps it clot naturally. “Let’s say if I get a small cut, it might bleed for a little bit longer than somebody else,” Orth explains.
It also creates a much higher risk of internal bleeding from everyday activity, especially in joints like the elbows, wrists or knees. These “bleeds,” as they’re called, can be life threatening if not treated properly. Colin Orth manages his hemophilia with medicine, an infusion of the missing protein into his blood every ten days.
“I’d say I have to be a little more careful than regular people, but it’s nothing that holds me back from doing other activities,” Orth says.Orth’s parents help keep him on schedule, but eventually he will leave home and be on his own. That’s a scary day for any parent, but especially when a child’s health depends on a self-care schedule. “He knows how to take care of himself, but we’re letting him have more independence, and so we’re getting to that point where we’re going to have to let him go,” Angie Sterling-Orth says.
In 2018, Sterling-Orth found help from an unlikely source, her Twitter feed. The CEO of a production company was auditioning teens with bleeding disorders for a show in New York titled “Hemophilia: The Musical.” Colin Orth sent in an audition reel. “I sent in a recording of me singing some of my favorite songs,” Orth said. “They emailed back in a couple of weeks saying that ‘Congratulations, you’re in.’”
Orth flew to New York City to rehearse and perform in a Broadway-style show, a traveling musician’s dream. “When I went to New York, I finally felt like I actually took my first step into the professional music business,” Orth said.
The play raised awareness about bleeding disorders, but also encouraged the actors to take care of themselves as they enter adulthood. “It gave me goose bumps and it made me cry, for sure,” Angie Sterling-Orth says. “I think some of those messages in those songs were good for me to hear and see that it will be okay.”
Orth plans to double major in music and either business or marketing in college. No matter what happens, his brush with Broadway gave him the confidence keep hitting those high notes. “Never let the other people that have negative comments toward you bring you down,” Orth says. “You have an entire community of people like us that will push you up and never let you down.”