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Music: What the doctor ordered

Samantha PalGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kara K. Pearson
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Lesa Russo, an acute rehabilitation nurse at Valley View Hospital, hugs nearly every person she sees.It’s easy to see how her cheery, caring demeanor can put patients at ease. She even started the Holistic Harmony Music Program at the hospital to try and create a more peaceful, relaxing environment.Russo is not quick to divulge that she herself is a musician, who often plays guitar and sings for patients and staff. That’s why she was asked to start the program. “We’re trying to demystify the hospital experience so that people forget they’re in a hospital for five minutes,” Russo says. “They can forget all about their pain and engage in conversation with the musicians.”

As a Planetree hospital, Valley View is required to have a healing garden. The Holistic Harmony program takes advantage of this by having musicians come play for patients and staff every week, in either the garden, the lobby or patient care areas.Musicians also go from room to room, playing music one on one with patients. Terminal, intensive care unit, and orthopedic rehab patients, patients undergoing chemotherapy in the cancer center, and patients in day surgery all benefit from the music.”There are some pretty powerful stories,” Russo says. “All the musicians have their own personal stories.”Russo tells of one regular musician, Barry Chapman, who had the opportunity to play the keyboards for a man dying of rapidly spreading cancer. The man said he loved music, and closed his eyes peacefully while Chapman played. The man’s family sent Chapman a card and a picture of him after he died, Russo says.Other musicians enjoy playing for babies in the nursery, feeling privileged to be making the first music the babies hear, says Russo. Babies with meningitis who were very irritable had their heart rates brought down by a harpist’s tunes, Russo says.

Through fundraising, the Holistic Harmony program was able to pay for four musicians to come once a month each. The rest of the musicians volunteer their time, so that there are two to three musicians a week playing at the hospital.When she first started the program two years ago, Russo was calling people constantly, trying to fill the hospital with willing volunteer musicians.”Now they’re calling me, and they want to come back,” says Russo. “They get so much out of it and the patients are so grateful.”Today’s Healing Garden musician is Russo’s neighbor, Gwen Hill, who plays guitar and sings while Eric Kincade plays bass.”It’s neat to bring that little bit of freshness and joy to them,” Hill says of the patients. “It’s good to leave them with a little better experience.”The Holistic Harmony program was able to buy a “therapy harp,” a small, lightweight wooden harp, because of a large donation. Patients can hold the harp against their chests, and since it’s tuned pentatonically, they don’t have to worry about sounding out of key.”People are afraid [to play it], believe me, but we tell them that no matter what they play it sounds beautiful,” Russo says.Elice Helmke, a professional harpist, plays at the hospital once a month. Patients can play along with her with the therapy harp.



“Some patients want to keep a hold of it because it’s so soothing,” says Russo.Even guys love it, Russo says, and one followed the harp around from room to room because he enjoyed it so much.Russo says one patient said, “I hate to say that my hospital stay was fun, but it was.” She says people have a good time in the musical environment, even though they may be healing.”It’s such a privilege for me to take the musicians around and see what goes on behind closed doors,” says Russo.

A world-class harpist, Christina Tourin, will come to the hospital Monday, Aug. 6, to teach a harp-playing workshop that will be open to the public. Tourin will also discuss the therapeutic benefits of harp-playing.The Holistic Harmony second Anniversary benefit will take place Thursday, July 26. Russo says all the musicians will play together at the fundraiser and dinner held in the hospital lobby.Patients and musicians aren’t the only ones to benefit from music in the hospital – the staff also enjoys it. A few female staff members sit together in the garden, enjoying lunch, music and conversation. Russo says one time someone came in playing mandolins, and they had nurses dancing in the halls.



Barbara Gugelman, an occupational health therapy assistant, has worked at Valley View for seven years, but today she is seeing the other side. She is recovering from surgery, and was brought down to the Healing Garden from her hospital bed by Russo to listen to today’s music.As Gwen Hill and Eric Kincade perform, Gugelman and her family enjoy the courtyard.”It’s a nice first outing,” Gugelman says. “It’s nice to get out of the hospital bed.”Gugelman has taken patients to the healing garden before, but now she sees the benefits firsthand.”It’s kinda depressing to stay in your room,” Gugelman says. “It’s nice to be able to get out there. It’s relaxing, the soft breezes and the music.”Gugelman says Russo has done a great job with the program, and that she can see her compassion in the way she treats her patients. The Russos are a very talented family, Gugelman said, and Lesa Russo and her son played a lovely duet on the piano once at the hospital.Russo plays at the downtown marketplace, and used to make a living performing at concerts full-time. Then she decided to become a nurse. And now she gets to blend both of her passions.”I would like to have the hospital full of music,” says Russo.For more information or to volunteer your musical talent, call Lesa Russo at 309-1701.Contact Samantha Pal: 384-9105spal@postindependent.com


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