Between musical numbers under Friday night lights, theater performances, concerts and marching contests, any high schooler in band knows performances can happen throughout the school year.
But for a dedicated band director, the planning, practicing and performing leaves little room for rest between the end of the school year and the hot, August practices for next year’s marching band routine.
For the past few months, that work and dedication to his students are what have kept Waco High School band director Scott Stulir going, he said.
Stulir had a kidney removed this summer after doctors found a cancerous mass, and he found out a few weeks ago his remaining kidney was failing. He has spent the last few weeks searching for the perfect donor willing to do a live transplant that would save his life, he said.
“Doctors want to do it as soon as they can,” Stulir said. “But there’s a whole bunch of transplant protocols you have to go through. They said usually the process for the recipient, which would be me, would be like 16 weeks. We’ve started going through all of that. … We’ve jump-started all the stuff we can. There’s just a certain order things have to happen in. We’ve put the word out on Facebook, and we’ve already had several people willing to donate a live kidney, but we have to get everything matched up.”
Stulir has been with Waco High for 11 years, but in a matter of less than three months, his world changed, he said. He went to a local doctor in July for what he thought was a kidney stone, but the doctor couldn’t give him a clear diagnosis. After a second opinion and several tests, doctors informed Stulir he would need surgery to remove the mass, he said.
“You’re supposed to be off six to eight weeks, but I was off less than a week,” Stulir said. “I had to come back and hold band camp, which is 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat. You just suck it up, you know?”
But he didn’t know at the time if the exhaustion and pain he felt was because of his short recovery, or because marching season is nonstop, he said. Then another doctor told him his other kidney was only operating at about 12 percent, and dialysis is not an option. In fact, dialysis could kill him, he said.
“There could be many things behind the cause, but they don’t want to get into ‘Did this not get done right? Did that happen?’ This is where it’s at, and they’re doing blood tests constantly,” Stulir said. “I feel like a voodoo doll, but they’re constantly checking and I’m checking my blood four or five times a day. … It’s a combination of blood sugar, blood pressure and all this other stuff because that all stresses the kidney.”
In the beginning, Stulir was more mum about the issue, but students and staff could tell when he was having a hard day, assistant band director Tyler Sage said.
Stulir’s condition has forced him to stop going to every away game, and that absence has left him thinking about whether his students are missing anything, Stuilir said.
But co-workers step up when necessary, and his students care from afar by raising money to support him and doing their best on the field, Sage said.
“Honestly, he’s always been very stubborn and hardheaded. The doctor tells him to take six weeks off, and he takes two and a half and he’s still working from home and coming in,” Sage said. “We’ve finally gotten him to say, ‘No, I’m actually going to go rest. You guys take over.’
“For some of the football games, he’s allowed us to take that over so he can get the rest he needs to get. It’s not any different working with him. He’s fully invested in his work. He always has been. To some extent, I think that’s been therapeutic for him.”
Stulir broke the news to his students about two weeks ago, he said.
“For me, Stulir has always kind of seemed like one of those people you know is always going to be there,” senior Jackson Osborne said after hearing the news. “You can’t imagine something without him. I can’t imagine coming into this band hall and not seeing him here. He’s just one of those people.”
As Stulir continues his search for the perfect match, doctors are evaluating all of his options, he said. One option is a bionic kidney, but doctors are hesitant because it is still considered new technology, he said. A bionic kidney would be more like a Hail Mary, he said.
Kidneys donated from someone who has died are only an option for someone who is older or who has already gone through a live transplant, his doctors told him.
But there’s not a 100 percent chance the live transplant will be successful, he said. He doesn’t know what will happen and all he can do for now is hope for the best, Stulir said.
In the meantime, Stulir is doing what he can to make sure his students know his expectations for performance have not changed, he said.
“We push them as hard as we can, and there’s a certain point when there’s so many kids doing all AP classes and they come walking in like zombies in the morning because they’re up until 3 a.m. doing papers and all this,” Stulir said. “I’m like, ‘Get used to it. That’s the real world. Keep going.’ If you want better and more, you have to do the work to get that, and it’s all part of it. I wouldn’t ask them to push themselves as hard as I do if I wasn’t pushing myself.”