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Published: Friday, 4/15/2005

Fast-rising star brightens face of ailing Sylvania boy

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gavin DeGraw, left, visits Nathan Watt, who suffers from spina bifida, at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. Mr. DeGraw said he will dedicate the song 'Shackles' in his concerts to the boy. Gavin DeGraw, left, visits Nathan Watt, who suffers from spina bifida, at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. Mr. DeGraw said he will dedicate the song 'Shackles' in his concerts to the boy.
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Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw played two concerts in Toledo on Wednesday - one for a sold-out crowd of 1,000 at Club Bijou, the other for an audience of one at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

Mr. DeGraw, a fast-rising 27-year-old pop-rock star whose debut disc, Chariot, recently earned platinum-record status with sales of more than a million copies, sold out his show at the downtown Bijou more than a week before the concert.

On Wednesday afternoon, concert promoter John Nittolo of JNP Concerts showed Mr. DeGraw an e-mail he had received from Diana Watt of Sylvania, asking if the singer could visit her 13-year-old son, Nathan, in the hospital.

A seventh-grader at Arbor Hills Junior High School in Sylvania, Nathan underwent his 36th surgery and fourth in four weeks on Saturday for spina bifida.

An estimated 70,000 people in the United States suffer from the neural-tube defect, which occurs during the first month of pregnancy when the spinal column does not close completely.

Nathan, who sings in the Aldersgate United Methodist Church choir, is a big fan of Mr. DeGraw and plays his CD almost every day because it makes him feel good, Mrs. Watt said. "It's starting to skip because we're wearing it out," she added.

Mr. Nittolo said when Mr. DeGraw saw Mrs. Watt's e-mail, he said, "I've got to do this."

The singer walked into the intensive care unit where the boy was being treated. "Nathan's smile was so big, it was not just from ear to ear, it was from New York to California," Mr. Nittolo said. "Just the look on his face brought immediate tears to my eyes."

Mrs. Watt said Mr. DeGraw went far beyond anything she could have hoped.

"He was here for like 35 or 40 minutes. I was shocked at how long he spent here. He sat at the end of the bed and they talked about music, who each of them liked."

Mr. DeGraw then listened to a song that Nathan had recorded called "Shackles," by the Christian pop duo Mary Mary. His sisters, McKenzie, 9, and Hannah, 7, danced along and added background "doo wop" vocals.

"It's a perfect song for Nathan because, being in a wheelchair, the lyrics say, 'Take the shackles off my feet so I can dance,'‚óŹ" Mrs. Watt said.

"When Gavin listened to Nathan sing, he listened extremely intently, staring at the floor," Mrs. Watt said.

"He told Nathan to keep it up, to keep singing religious songs and to keep his strength and faith up."

Mr. DeGraw then walked out into the hallway and returned with a guitar and a chair, took a seat, and sang his two hit tunes for Nathan: "I Don't Wanna Be" and "Chariot." Nathan sang along as about 20 nurses and doctors gathered in the intensive care room to watch and listen.

The singer also gave Nathan a Gavin DeGraw knit cap, "and Nathan says he is not taking it off," Mrs. Watt said.

Yesterday, Mr. DeGraw called Nathan at St. Vincent and said he was going to start singing "Shackles" in concert and possibly record the song as a tribute to the Sylvania boy, Mrs. Watt said.

She has an online journal about Nathan, including photos of Mr. DeGraw's visit, at http://www3.caringbridge.org/oh/nathanwatt/.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com or

419-724-6154.



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