Aliyah Diffenbach is just 15 years old and has already written more than 20 original songs.
The Warwick Middle School eighth-grader began writing her own songs as a way to cope with the challenges of the past year. As she notes, dealing with loneliness and feeling cut off from the rest of the world is something everyone can understand in these days of COVID-19. For Aliyah, those feelings are more intense than for most of her friends and classmates at Warwick Middle School. She has had to do virtual classes because she cannot risk being in the classroom and any possible exposure to COVID-19.
As a baby, she was born nine weeks early, with severe medical issues that meant that the little girl needed life-saving organ transplants. When she was 11 months old, Aliyah underwent surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, to give her a new liver, small intestine, pancreas, and a portion of her stomach.
“We were told that Aliyah would not survive without it,” says her mother Michelle Diffenbach, who is a nurse and was able to care for her daughter when she came home.
As the second of four children of Michelle and Jason Diffenbach, Aliyah has an older sister Mariah, 16, and two younger brothers Jared, 9, and Braxton, 7. With all her surgeries and medication to fight organ rejection, Aliyah’s immune system is compromised. She also has lung and breathing issues that could be very serious if she was exposed to COVID-19.
“It has been really hard being at home instead of in school because I am a very social person,” says Aliyah. “One of the best ways for me to reach out and express myself is with music.”
Warwick Middle School teacher Aevidum Club advisor Elton Sturgis discovered her talent and encouraged Aliyah to write and sing her songs. She has played the piano since she was young, and also plays the ukulele and guitar.
In her sweet, soprano voice, Aliyah performs her songs of hope, accompanying herself on ukulele or guitar. In one video, she even sings her own harmony, recording her voice in the different parts so that she sounds like her own backup band.
Aliyah posts her videos on her FaceBook page called Hope Notes. Her message is all about hope and resilience in these times. Many of her songs draw on her faith. Some examine feelings of fear and loneliness. They are all ways of expressing her heartfelt feelings that she shares with her friends.
Having spent so much time in hospitals, Aliyah reaches out to patients, dropping off cards with her messages of care. She is also involved in the Warwick Middle School’s Aevidum Club, which offers support to other teens with the promise of “I’ve got your back.”
Aliyah’s very first song was “By Your Side,” which was inspired by a song by Bruno Mars. In her song, she assures listeners that she will be there to comfort them.
“My second song was “Help me Up,” and it is a cry out to God, telling Him that I can’t do this alone,” says Aliyah. “I need Him to help me get on the right path again.”
Her seventh song, “Broken Tree’” is about dealing with change and weathering storms. She wrote it when she found out her follow-up transplant care would be transferred from the familiar hospital in Boston to a new hospital in Pittsburgh.
“This move was one of the storms I had to go through. This song is about how we are God’s trees, and even through the tough times, He is with us, taking care of us,” says Aliyah, who also wrote “If you Say,” when she was struggling with the transition of her care to another hospital and a new healthcare team.
One of her most powerful songs is “Battle Cry,” which was her 14th song. She wrote the song when her older sister had tested positive for COVID-19. At that time, she was expressing her fear and worry, asking for God’s help during a tough time. Fortunately, Aliyah did not get the virus.
With her life-long experiences dealing with health challenges, Aliyah is committed to educating others about the importance of organ donors, which saved her life.
With Warwick’s declining virus numbers, Aliyah is hoping to be able to return to in-person classes for the next school year. The adults in her family have been vaccinated, although she cannot be vaccinated because of her compromised immunity. She will be heading to high school and looks forward to pursuing her studies in language arts, reading, music, and science. She is only 15 but already has a career in mind.
“I would love to do something in music therapy because I think music has such power to help others. I am also interested in physical therapy,” says Aliyah.
Or maybe she’ll make an album and make it big in the music world. She already has enough songs.
Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the pages of the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story tips at email@example.com.