It was mid-afternoon on the first day of October at Holtz Children’s Hospital in Miami, and in Elizabeth Foley’s room there was tranquility.
Elizabeth’s mother, Amy Foley, leaned over her 2-year-old daughter, lying in a cradle-type bed.
“Let’s play music,” she said. “That’s going to put you in a good mood.
The “good humor” perspective seemed a little distant to the Foleys. Elizabeth suffers from a genetic disease called Alagille Syndrome that affects the functioning of the bile ducts in the liver. The girl had just come out of a stress test for a potential liver transplant.
But Stephanie Epstein, the hospital’s music therapist, has her methods, like starting with songs from the little ones’ favorite movies, like Frozen and Moana. In addition, she uses instruments like the so-called sea drum, full of small metal beads that create calming waves.
Within minutes, Elizabeth held a toy maraca in one hand, while using the other hand to play the strings of Epstein’s guitar.
Epstein, who began the music therapy program five years ago at Holtz – part of the UM Jackson Memorial Medical Center – chose the instrument, smaller than a normal guitar because it’s easier to hold as it meanders between doctors, nurses and the numerous teams surrounding the hospital beds.
That’s crucial for Epstein because she doesn’t just play music to relax patients before and after treatments, as many music therapists do. Research shows that music can reduce pain and anxiety in children during medical procedures, so Epstein also plays when it counts most.
That sometimes means that doctors can use smaller doses of sedatives or even not use them at all, which can be especially strong in younger patients.
Not having to sedate a child, Epstein said, also means saving time and money. In those cases, children don’t need to fast for 12 hours, don’t need to use an anesthesiologist, don’t suffer the side effects of sedatives, and don’t need to be intubated to ensure airway opening.
“It’s better for patients and staff,” Epstein said. “The atmosphere all over the place relaxes.
The hospital administration has gladly accepted the concept. Executive President Hamilton Clark said the music therapy program is “an integral part of our team.
“Children need specialized medical services in all areas, and we know that music therapy plays an important role in the healing process for our patients,” Clark said.
For Epstein it is more than a job, he considers music therapy a privilege: to develop real and personal relationships in the process. Epstein works with children who may need to be encouraged to sit in bed, or stand, for the first time in several weeks, and uses music to help them through physical therapy and rehabilitation.
“I offer them something positive to hold on to, to express themselves, a positive coping skill,” Epstein said. “I can be that person who helps them feel like children again.
Halfway through the first song Epstein sang to Elizabeth Foley – “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen – she paused, walked to the door to make sure the nurse didn’t need to come in. When she came back to Foley and started playing again, she smiled for the first time that day.
After Epstein left, Elizabeth’s mom, Amy Foley, said she was impressed with the hospital staff, especially Epstein.
“I’ve seen other music therapists in other hospitals,” said Foley, who traveled from Tampa in an ambulance with her daughter to treat her at the Holtz. “She is of a much higher standard.
She calms me too,” she added.
And that’s the purpose. One of the benefits of music therapy, in addition to reducing the need for sedation, is that it calms everyone in the place-patients, family members and even hospital staff.
“We know they’re going to have to operate on her in the future,” said the girl’s mother. “Limiting the amount of anesthesia is very important.
Music has been a blessing for Epstein, 32, for many years. She says she took piano lessons from a very young age, then singing lessons, and finally learned to play the flute. . Epstein says she always knew she wanted to be a musician, but she wasn’t sure what.
“I was very interested in psychology and counseling, so I started researching music and found music therapy, which is the perfect marriage of my two passions,” Epstein said.
That combination again turned out to be the right formula when Epstein met 15-year-old Sophia Treadwell, who was admitted to Holtz in May after a diagnosis of leukemia.
Sophia, who plays piano, violin and guitar, says her first days in the hospital were like a dream. All he could think about was his health. Then a student at Coral Reef High School, he met Epstein and the two started talking about music.
“It made me feel better,” Sophia said. “It took all the bad things that were going on out of my mind.
The music therapy program at Holtz has other benefits, which cannot be easily quantified.
As Sophia’s admission came to an end, she and Epstein played a concert in front of the nurses’ area to celebrate their last chemotherapy session.
Sophia’s father, Ty Treadwell, said the program not only helps the patients, but also the staff. She said she saw doctors, nurses and hospital administrators, including CEO Clark, with tears in their eyes during Sophia’s concert.
“I thought they were saying to themselves, ‘We’re helping this little girl, look how happy she is now that she’s playing for us,'” Treadwell said. “In that case she was the one who was treating them.
Epstein, who lives in Cooper City, said her work is emotionally demanding, sometimes inspiring, sometimes exhausting and sad. The hospital cares for very sick children, she said, but says being able to help others is a healing process for her as well.
“If I have a bad day, sometimes I feel lonely in my office,” Epstein said. “But the moment I wake her up, I go out and work with these amazing patients and their families, the day automatically gets better for me.
Knowing that patients and relatives open up to Epstein at a very vulnerable time said, helps put things in perspective.
“They open your heart,” Epstein said. “You see the good and the bad. I take it very seriously that someone lets you into their space that way.