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'Aorta Borealis': Dad & Young Daughter Make Music Inspired By Her Health Struggles

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A Twin Cities father found his way back to the recording studio after his daughter's health setbacks. And their music is giving other families a soundtrack to be able to pull through hard times.

Alyssa Norell seemed to be in a hurry to get here from the start six years ago.

"Within 22 minutes of arriving at the hospital, Alyssa was born," father Jesse Norell said.

Alyssa was born with Down syndrome, and doctors soon found she also had heart problems.

"Through a series of events they were able to find that Alyssa has a pretty serious heart defect, which is something else we didn't know," Jesse said.

She survived two open-heart surgeries to repair the three holes in her heart. It's when Jesse went back to writing music for the first time in 15 years.

Alyssa and Jesse Norell
Alyssa and Jesse Norell (credit: The Norells)

"For me, this story could not be told in the way I wanted to tell it without music," he said.

He launched a Kickstarter campaign to celebrate kids with Down syndrome, raising enough money in March of 2020 to record an album -- when COVID-19 crept in.

"The plan was kids go to school, I start making music again, and I give the people the record that they asked for and that they contributed to," he said. "And then I had to figure out how to make it really quietly [laughs]!"

The title, "Aorta Borealis," reflects on Alyssa's heart struggles and the Northern Lights.

"You can't see the Northern Lights unless you have the backdrop of darkness. Then when it's dark, you can see this beautiful thing that you never would have even had the chance to see otherwise," he said. "This for me is about finding light and joy in both the dead of night and the sunrise."

"Aorta Borealis" will be released on all music streaming services for free on March 4. There is also a live concert planned for April 8 at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis.

Click here to watch the official teaser, and click here to pre-order the album.

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