'˜Music is something I want to do for the rest of my life'
When Lewis Smith suffered headaches, doctors thought he had concussion after a clash of heads while playing football.
But he’d actually developed a serious infection which needed life-saving brain surgery.
Mum Nicki recalls: ‘We went on holiday to Cornwall and he started getting swelling. I knew something wasn’t right, so we decided to come home.’
‘We took him to the Queen Alexandra Hospital at Cosham and they decided to keep him in overnight and put him on antibiotics because they weren’t sure what it was.
‘The next day his eye was completely shut, he had so much swelling.
‘They sent him for a CT scan and found he had a bacterial infection through his sinuses. It had spread through his skull and had gone into his brain.’
Lewis was taken by ambulance to Southampton General Hospital. His worried parents were told he needed surgery or he’d die.
But the surgery came with its own risks of paralysis or brain damage.
Surgeons had to cut part of his skull away to clear the infection. They then had to put the piece in his stomach to keep it alive while the swelling went down.
Lewis was in hospital for eight days and then was sent home with lots of antibiotics. He went back into hospital three months later to have another operation to have his skull put back together.
Two months later he wanted to return to school – but he was admitted to hospital again shortly afterwards with another sinus infection.
He underwent another operation and went five months without anything covering his brain for protection – just his skin.
Then he had a titanium plate fitted, but this led to another infection so it was taken out. Finally he had another plate fitted.
Today the 15-year-old from Droxford has turned his attention to music.
Three years on, he is a talented singer-songwriter, has released his own CD and performs at venues across the area.
He won the Bandeoke contest at the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea earlier this month and was runner-up in the Music Star category of The News Youth Awards.
Nicki says she is proud of how her son responded to his treatment.
‘From the minute he went in for the first operation, he only got upset once, which was at the end when he missed playing football and felt he was missing out on seeing his friends.
‘Apart from that he smiled his way through it. He kept us all going through his bravery. He was in so much pain before the first operation, but he was joking and laughing with the anaesthetists.’
Nicki says Lewis’ life was very different after his surgery.
‘He used to play football and rugby, but he wasn’t allowed to do any contact sports. He had to give it all up,’ she says.
‘As a parent I was thinking ‘‘how am I going to keep my boy occupied because football is his life?’’
‘We had always known he had a nice voice, so we took him to a recording studio.
‘We bought him a guitar and he started playing. It’s amazing how he has taken to it so quickly.
‘We didn’t want to be parents who stand in his way and then regret it. He said he wasn’t going back to playing football just in case something happened.
‘He was a very sporty young lad. Looking back now, he’s doing so amazingly well with his music that I’m a firm believer things happen for a reason.
‘He had to go through the rubbish times to get where he is now. He is amazing on stage.
‘He gets such a thrill out of making people smile.
‘Every mum thinks their kids are brilliant, but everyone says how amazing he is. I think he will be able to make a living out of singing for the rest of his life.’
Lewis says music seemed like the way forward after his operations.
‘My friends were playing football and I wasn’t doing much. I was missing my friends.
‘Music took off quite quickly and I have never really looked back.
‘I started gigging after the operation and playing the guitar. I started listening to other musicians and creating a set.
‘I never really thought it was something I wanted to do all my life. But the more I’ve done, the more I have wanted to do it.
‘To start off with it was a bit of a hobby and then it turned into something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.’
Now Lewis gets paid to perform across the area.
His parents have even bought him a minibus to transport all his equipment and family members who go to see him perform.
‘I am taking it seriously,’ he says.
‘If you don’t take it seriously, people won’t take you seriously.
‘I was always into drama. I am the loud one in the class who likes to be the centre of attention.
Now Lewis is looking forward to starting music college.
‘The dream is to get a management and get a recording deal and go on tour around the country.
‘If you don’t believe in yourself then you will never get there. But I have always had belief in myself.
‘I have always been determined to succeed. A lot of people say to me that it must have been so hard to get through it, but I think it was harder for mum and dad than for me. I don’t want to have pity from anyone.
Lewis adds: ‘People ask me why I don’t go on The X Factor.
‘I’ve got a good story, I’ve got the stage presence and I have got a good voice. But I don’t want to be known for having a sob story.’
Last year, Lewis was lucky enough to meet Ed Sheeran through the Starlight Children’s Foundation, which grants wishes for seriously ill children.
He and his family were flown out to Prague where Ed was performing. They had tickets to the concert and went backstage to meet him.
They spent time with him and Lewis even had the chance to sing with him.
‘They took us through to his dressing room. We sat down and had a chat. Then I did a duet with him.
‘He listened to one of my songs and he said I was better than he was at my age.
‘He is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He’s like the man down the road. He spent a lot of time with me. He’s an inspiration to me when it comes to songwriting.’
Lewis played his first gig in May last year at a local pub. His parents approached the owners and asked if they would give him a chance to perform to an audience, making it clear they weren’t looking for any payment.
‘He was a bit nervous, but he did it and then it escalated from there,’ Nicki says, adding: ‘They couldn’t believe how talented he was. He wants to make it big.
‘‘I think having those operations have made him a more determined person. It’s made him who he is today.’
For more information on Lewis, go to lewissmithofficial.co.uk