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Call Her Wonder Woman

Texas State University student Bella Sera on the drums with her band Tough on Fridays.
Photos submitted by April Dawn Shinske

Call Her Wonder Woman

Percussionist Bella Sera.

Call Her Wonder Woman

Percussionist Bella Sera Rocks On
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Percussionist Bella Sera

When Bella Sera was growing up in Houston, Texas, she was tired of other kids calling her derogatory names due to her Marfan-syndrome-related tall stature, so she told them to call her “an Amazon” instead.

“If you’re going to call me something related to my height, call me an Amazon. I took it as a big compliment to be called something that related to Wonder Woman,” Sera said.

That kind of bold spunk and positive outlook has taken Sera on a journey to become a rock drummer, and a bit of a Wonder Woman in her own right.

Not cleared for contact sports or trampolines as a child and inspired by her uncle who was a drummer also living with Marfan, Sera said, “I started drumming because I couldn’t do the other activities. Thankfully, that was one of the things I could do. *My doctor was like, ‘Of course you can drum. Why not?’” For Sera, drumming is its own kind of sport. “I’m a super high-energy drummer. I move my whole body when I play,” she said.

The Path to Percussion

Sera’s path to where she is today — ready to go on a multi-state tour with her band, Tough on Fridays, and poised to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in sound-recording and aspirations toward a Master’s degree in jazz from Texas State University — was shaped in large part by her need to seek alternatives to typical after-school activities due to Marfan syndrome’s physical impact.

“It’s been amazing. I worked hard [at drumming]. I would go home every day after school and practice, I took private lessons,” Sera said.

By sixth grade, Sera started studying jazz percussion to enhance her skills. She did jazz all through high school. Because playing other instruments on the field during marching band proved too hard on her body, Sera shifted gears and played a drum set in marching band.

“I got to sit the whole time which was GREAT,” she says with a laugh.

Sera was part of a few bands in high school, and recorded her own album. She then managed her own band that played at many local venues including the White Oak Music Hall, Numbers Night Club and House of Blues, all prior to being accepted to Texas State. She has also worked as a model, leveraging her height as an asset.

Being Realistic, Practicing Self-Care Sera has learned to work around her physical limitations by being realistic about them and practicing selfcare. On doctor’s advice, she never lifts more than 10 - 15 pounds. On tour with her current band, that means asking for help at times when it comes to moving percussion equipment. She also pays attention to her body.

“Depending on the environment that I’m in, [recently] we were outdoors, it was hot and I felt my abs starting to get sore [as I played],” Sera said.

To handle the rigors of touring, Sera sticks to a routine and physical activity for which she is personally medically- cleared. “I make sure that I still go to the gym at least three times a week, but I don’t push myself. I do very light cardio, not heavy cardio. I do very low-weight toning exercises,” Sera said. She also uses assistive devices for moving heavier items. “I have a lot of equipment to help carry my drums, like bags with wheels and wagons.” When carrying something heavier like her bass drum that can’t always be solved with modifications, Sera asks for help and has been happy that people almost always say yes.

A Large Family Living With Marfan Sera comes from a large family where having Marfan is the norm. Her mom and three uncles have the condition, and all of her eight cousins and her two older brothers all have Marfan syndrome, as well. She was diagnosed so young, she doesn’t remember the moment. Her grandfather has Marfan, too; he was diagnosed when trying to join the military later in life, which led to testing for generations of her family. Her family’s experiences helped her find the positives within her diagnosis.

“My mom did a really good job at raising us to love ourselves the way we are made. She’d tell me, ‘It’s so cool that you’re taller than everyone, that’s not a bad thing. Models are super tall,’” Sera said.

Marfan is Different for Everyone Sera, whose family has experienced relatively few aortic issues, takes great care to express empathy for all community members who have varying complications and degrees of physical restrictions. She is well aware that she and her family have been blessed when it comes to cardiac complications, and is quick to acknowledge that the pain and loss of aortic dissection for fellow community members can make staying positive more challenging. Likewise, more cardiac involvement can make some of the physical activities she has been cleared to take part in out of reach for others. But, Marfan syndrome still makes its presence known.

“We suffer other things. My mom had a retinal detachment, my grandfather has a pacemaker, my elderly uncle is at high-risk for aneurysm with aging. I’ve seen the harder sides of it, but I try to focus on the positive,” Sera said.

Be Yourself, Love Yourself Since Bella didn’t have many female role models living with Marfan other than her mom when growing up, she’s on a mission to show younger women and girls that you can smash through stereotypes and expectations to build your own presence. As part of an all-women rock band and as a percussionist, she’s happily breaking through societal boundaries.

“People who don’t have Marfan syndrome, when you’re a kid you do football, cheerleading, dance class, karate. I feel like for people with Marfan since a lot of those options are often closed off, we get funneled into these more unique activities. That gives us a really unique advantage when we learn something that nobody else gets to know about,” Sera said.

“You’re already set apart… you already have something you can do that is way cooler than most people your age,” Sera said.

Sera has a message for young people — and anyone — who may be struggling with some aspects of living with a genetic aortic and vascular condition: “Love yourself no matter what. No matter the condition, learn how it makes you special in the best way possible. No one in this world is the same, but that’s what makes this world so beautiful. Learn to show off what makes you you and be proud of it. There’s only one version of you, and that is what makes you so gorgeous.”

*As always, before taking part in any physical activity, it’s important that community members consult with their personal expert healthcare providers.

Learn more about Bella by checking out her Instagram @b_the_drummer and her band’s site, toughonfridays. com.

San Marcos Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666