Starlight Kid Austin Gatus and Dave Koz: the Power of Music and Friendship

Starlight Kid Austin Gatus always had his saxophone with him, especially while being treated for leukemia at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

“Having cancer, I became really shy because I had a low immune system and couldn’t hang out with friends and I had to miss out on school events and parties,” said Austin.

He may have been shy, but music gave him confidence.

He began playing the recorder in elementary school, and then took interest in joining the band program and his parents bought him a saxophone.

Now he’s 24 years old, a talented musician, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate, and 11 years cancer free.

“I knew cancer was a serious thing, but I didn’t realize how bad it is until I got it,” Austin said. “I’m grateful my family was able to come together and get through it. And it helped having foundations like Starlight.”

Starlight delivers happiness to kids like Austin through hospital toy deliveries, hospital visits and other programs like Starlight Gaming and Starlight Virtual Reality.

And there is one very special Starlight Ambassador who has made an incredible impact on Austin’s life.

During the 2009 Starlight charity gala, nine-time Grammy nominated saxophonist Dave Koz was set to perform. We invited Austin to perform with him, at just nine years old!

“As a saxophonist, he’s one of the greatest inspirations on how I shape my sound and my phrasing,” Austin said. “I had known about him before I met him, but after we played together, he became one of my biggest inspirations and on top of that, he became a friend and mentor.”

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Austin and Dave went on to perform on many more stages together. During high school, Austin performed during three of the annual Dave Koz and Friends Cruises.

While Austin was attending UCLA, he and Dave performed for young patients.

“People who come out to the hospital and perform, I used to love that when I was in the hospital, because it was something new to do,” Austin said. “Being able to do that for the kids felt great.”

Over the years, Dave and his community have donated over $1m to bring Starlight programs to hospitals across the country. And while, due to COVID-19, we can’t host hospital visits like we used to, you too can help us continue to deliver happiness to seriously ill kids.

As a special treat, enjoy Dave Koz’ "12 Days of Kozmas”, a daily dose of good cheer going on now through December 12, leading up to his virtual holiday concert on December 12 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET. Tune in for some fun ways to support Starlight!

Donate today so we can keep hospitals stocked with toys, arts and crafts, Starlight Gaming and Starlight Gowns.

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