Music Therapy Supporting Medically Fragile Children
The Resounding Joy Healing Notes program uses music therapy to improve the cognitive, physical, psychological and social well-being of children facing severe, complex, or chronic healthcare issues in a variety of settings. Our goal is to create positive experiences that contribute to the overall quality of life and progression of health for children receiving medical care as well as their families.
Healing Notes Started Life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
The story of Healing Notes began in 2003, when Allison Tartari, a San Diego mother of a newborn son struggling for his life against a blood disorder, happened to witness the profound impact that music therapy had on the health of another infant sharing the Rady Children’s Hospital—San Diego neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with her son. Allison immediately advocated the use of music therapy for her own infant and rejoiced when his condition improved following treatment. Determined to enable other hospitalized children to benefit from music therapy, Allison named and founded Healing Notes as a California 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. From 2003 to 2009, under Allison’s leadership, Healing Notes contracted music therapy services to select patients at Rady Children’s Hospital—San Diego.
In 2010, Resounding Joy and Healing Notes merged, with Allison as vice president of the Resounding Joy Board of Directors. Healing Notes retained its name as a program of Resounding Joy, and to this day, provides music therapy services to pediatric patients and their families at no cost.
Research Validates Health Benefits of Music Therapy
Research proves that music therapy not only helps reduce health risks but also assists in the cognitive development of babies and children. Music therapy can achieve all the following:
- Improve physical health
- Facilitate relaxation
- Provide opportunity for autonomy
- Promote creative expression
- Alleviate depression
- Reduce isolation
- Improve quality of life
The Healing Notes staff of board-certified music therapists offer services primarily through referrals from medical staff, including pre- and post-surgery support, procedural support, transitional support from hospital to home, in-home palliative and hospice services, and bereavement services for mourning families.
The Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program
In 2008, the San Diego community lost a loving and caring young musician named Ariana Miller to congenital heart disease. Ariana was a gentle soul with a deep love of music. From the first moment of her fragile life, she responded to the rhythm of musical sound. As she struggled with her disease, surviving six open-heart surgeries and countless other invasive procedures, it was music that brought joy into her life. Although she ultimately lost her battle with congenital heart disease, her passionate love of music and its healing effect lives on through the Resounding Joy Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program.
Ariana was the first child with heart disease to receive music therapy from Resounding Joy. For 12 months, she benefited from at-home music therapy provided by three MusicWorx Inc.» interns. In 2010, thanks to funding provided in Ariana’s memory, Resounding Joy extended its community work to children suffering with heart disease at Rady Children’s Hospital—San Diego (RCHSD) through the Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program. Since that time, the program has become an integral part of the hospital’s cardiac care, providing music therapy at no cost to more than 1,500 children, primarily recovering from cardiac surgery or being hospitalized for cardiac ailments. In 2017, this program expanded to provide services for children in the oncology division at RCHSD.
After nurses and other medical professionals at RCHSD identify the best candidates for music therapy, Resounding Joy's Board-Certified music therapists treat the children and give their parents strategies for continuing to create positive experiences through music at the hospital, and later, at home.
Heart of a Child is an annual Resounding Joy benefit concert which provides funding for the Ariana Miller Music with Heart Program. This concert has become the premier showcase of the very best young musicians in San Diego County and features a diverse array of talented vocalists and instrumentalists. In 2017, due to the generous support of sponsors and patrons, Heart of a Child raised nearly $80,000, enabling Resounding Joy to continue providing daily music therapy at Rady, and expand services to patients with cancer. This has made an incredible impact on the care of these children.
For children diagnosed with blood disorders or cancer, Healing Notes music therapists use singing, songwriting, instrument playing and rhythmic movement to help decrease pain perception, normalize the hospital environment during long stays, provide choice and control opportunities, enhance patient and family coping skills, create expressive outlets, provide cognitive and sensory stimulation, address developmental goals where appropriate and all while comforting and elevating mood in both hospital patient and family.
The ability to provide music therapy services relies entirely upon the success of Resounding Joy community fundraising and philanthropic grants. Since 2017, this program is supported through the annual Heart of a Child Concert and the Ariana Miller Music with Heart program.
Healing Notes at Home
Dr. Barbara Reuer, Resounding Joy executive director, created Ronnie’s Fund to honor her youngest brother as well as to defray the cost of providing Healing Notes at-home music therapy services to families of children who are homebound due to incapacitating illness or physical disability. Ronnie’s Fund matches all donations made to Resounding Joy palliative care music therapy services.
Barbara’s brother Ronnie Reuer was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)—one of nine dystrophies—characterized by progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. In the absence of special education in the 1960s, the Reuer family provided Ronnie’s home schooling, and they found that music quickly became his favorite subject and pastime. Ronnie battled multiple bouts of pneumonia that ultimately took his life when he was just eight years old.
Healing Notes in Palliative Care
Children in palliative care suffer from serious, complex, life-limiting, or life-threatening conditions. Palliative care is more than pain management; it encompasses the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of wellbeing. Former MusicWorx intern and now current staff member, Lindsay Zehren, piloted a music therapy program for children in palliative care in 2015. The presence of music therapy for patients like these has proven to make a significantly positive contribution to a wide variety of challenges these children, their families, and their caregivers face on a daily basis.
The pilot was so successful and the demand so high, that Rady’s Children’s Hospital Auxiliary Unit generously funded 140 hours of music therapy for these patients. Due to the severity of the children’s conditions and the constant battles they must endure, we provide at-home therapy and group sessions.
Music therapy aims to enhance the quality of life for the child and their family through support, symptom management, and family bonding. Oftentimes music therapy is able to comfort when words seem inadequate and provide a means of positive interaction and expression of feelings. This program also provides sensory stimulation, encourages self-soothing, teaches parents how to use music to help their child, and encourages movement and participation.
Shine and Sing
Resounding Joy has opened Healing Notes services to any child up to age 5 with a medical and/or development special need! “Shine and Sing” groups, fun and interactive music therapy sessions for parents/guardians and their children, are popping up around San Diego County.