April 20, 2007

Music therapy at Children’s Hospital aids in healing

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Music therapist Jenny Plume helps patient Aaron Magruder create his own song on the computer. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Music therapy at Children's Hospital aids in healing

Julian Fouce loved music, and the teenage rock ‘n’ roll fanatic had aspirations of forming his own band with his friends.

He would almost always bring his guitar to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt while being treated for leukemia.

When Julian died at 16 in 2005, the music didn't stop.

His parents, Tom and Maria, established a fund in Julian's name and Julian's extended family and friends gave generously. The Fouce family decided in 2006 to use the fund to start a music therapy program at Children's Hospital.

“This was the most appropriate thing we could do, from Julian's standpoint,” Maria Fouce said. “We heard about music therapy programs at other hospitals and thought Vanderbilt should have a program, especially since this is Music City.”

Their dream became a reality earlier this year when Jenny Plume was hired as the first music therapist for Children's Hospital's Music Therapy Program, supported by the Julian T. Fouce Music Therapy Fund.

Plume was a singer/songwriter for eight years in Nashville in the mid-1990's before she decided to return to school to earn a music therapy degree from Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville. After graduating, she moved to Toronto and worked for a school for children with autism.

She returned to Nashville after being hired to work through Child Life Services at Children's Hospital.

“Jenny is tremendously talented,” said Janet Cross, director of Child Life Services at Children's Hospital. “The value of a music therapist is that music is a tremendous vehicle for kids to express themselves. Having an expert can only enhance the psycho-social care that we can provide children.”

Objectives of the program are wide-ranging. Plume envisions working with rehabilitation services to help patients reach their speech goals, helping other patients with self-expression and verbalizing their feelings through song lyrics, aiding in relaxation and pain management and even providing a sense of normalcy by purchasing iTunes and downloading a patient's favorite songs onto a CD.

“I'll make an individualized program depending on the kids I am working with,” Plume said. “You can't just assume what everybody needs. I let them have a choice.”

Sometimes she works with younger children using instruments such as the triangle or the guitar. The older patients are often drawn to computerized music-making programs such as “Garage Band” on her laptop. But sometimes, what is needed most by a patient is a calming tune sung to them.

“I was paged to come into a room to help a child who wasn't cooperating with technicians in order for them to do a test that required her to be still and lay on her back,” Plume said.

“It was amazing, even for me, to see her transformation from non-compliancy to laying on her back playing instruments and blowing bubbles to focusing on me while I sang and played guitar to her falling asleep. It really showed how effective music therapy can be,” Plume said.

Fifteen-year-old Aaron Magruder of Chattanooga, Tenn., recently sat on his hospital bed on the sixth floor cardiology wing of Children's Hospital, hard at work on Plume's laptop.

With the click of a mouse, a string of hip-hop beats began to play and Aaron smiled and slightly bopped his head to the music he just created.

“When she asked me if I wanted to make some music, I figured 'why not,'” Aaron said.

“I started listening to the sounds I could pick from and started making the beats. It's a fun thing to pass the time, and I think other kids would like it.”

The Fouce family said they especially wanted the program to assist older patients like Aaron, who are already going through the difficult teen years, compounded with an illness that will keep them in the hospital for a long stay.

“We're so excited to see the positive effect this program is already having on the kids, and it's a perfect way to remember Julian,” Tom Fouce said.

Hospitalized in mid-March after suffering a stroke at school, Aaron recently had heart surgery to repair a valve defect. He is currently recovering on the sixth floor of Children's Hospital. When he leaves the hospital, he'll likely have a soundtrack of his stay with a CD full of music he created.

“I want to help patients through the stages of coping and acceptance,” Plume said. “You can often see a real transformation.”