Giving Back Through Music

Sierra Marie Williams simply wanted to keep a promise she made to a nurse while recovering from surgery at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland: to come back and sing for other patients.

She ended up doing much more than that. On May 12, Sierra took the stage at the Fox Theater in front of almost 2,000 people at our annual Notes & Words fundraising event—and blew the audience away.

As a child, Sierra would often get migraines. She visited doctors near her Fairfield home again and again, but medicines they prescribed offered no relief. Then at age 13, an MRI finally revealed the culprit: a benign cyst on the right side of Sierra’s brain.

“The hospital staff took care of her, and all the children there, like royalty. It was incredible.” – Wallace Wiliams, Sierra’s father

Her father Wallace wasn’t satisfied with the treatment she was receiving at their local hospital, so he had her transferred to our Oakland campus. “They took care of her, and all the children there, like royalty,” he says. “It was incredible.”

The family met Peter Sun, MD, division chief of neurosurgery and the first recipient of the John S. and Sherry H. Chen Endowed Chair in Clinical Neurosurgery. The neurosurgery department at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals ranks as the best in the Bay Area, and the Oakland team performs as many as 450 surgeries each year.

“It was nerve-racking,” Wallace recalls. “But I knew Dr. Sun’s reputation and knew we were in good hands.”

Almost two years later, having fully recovered from brain surgery, Sierra came down with a viral infection. One night, her pain became unbearable—she felt like she was being stabbed in the stomach.

“At least we were prepared for the surgery,” Wallace says. “This came out of nowhere, and it was horrifying. We took her to the local hospital, but they wouldn’t do anything, so we rushed her to Oakland again and she was admitted immediately and given the same amazing treatment.”

Sierra’s gallbladder was removed, forcing her to give up her hobbies of soccer and running. Her mother suggested writing as a new pastime, and when Sierra put thoughts to paper, they came out as songs.

Now 18, Sierra aspires to make “Sierra Marie” a household name. With her soulful vocals, guitar skills, and captivating stage presence, it’s easy to imagine her becoming the next big thing. She has already made it to the top 100 on “American Idol” and has fielded inquiries from established producers.

Dr. Sun is gratified to have played a role in helping Sierra succeed. “Her cyst was near where her nerves for hearing are,” he says. “So I’m glad that we were able to take care of it so she can thrive with her talents.”

Sierra still plans to return to the hospital to sing—and encourages others to support Children’s however they can.

“It’s a very good cause—I can confirm that most definitely,” she says. “And you never know when you’ll need help in the future. It could be your family in need.”