Thanks to generous support from donors, music therapy is available to all kids at the Alberta Children's Hospital.
Evelyn Shanahan spends a lot of time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Born with serious heart defects, no major vessel leading to her liver and an incredibly rare metabolic condition, she’s a regular at many different clinics and departments.
A shining light in the midst of an often challenging journey for Evelyn has been the time she’s spent with music therapist, Sarah. Generously supported by the community, the music therapy program promotes healing for children and their families – in some cases, helping kids work on their motor, sensory or communication skills, in others, providing a creative outlet, social interaction or just a small distraction in difficult moments, like during needles.
“On one occasion, Evelyn needed lab work done and I came in to offer distraction during the poke,” says Sarah. “On the following visit, using sign language, she said to her mom ‘poke’ when she saw me and mom confirmed that I had been there during the previous poke. She then signed ‘friend’ to mom and mom confirmed that yes, I was her friend.”
Evelyn’s mom, Marie-Claire, says there have been many times Evelyn has been in isolation, unable to leave her hospital room so as not to compromise her immunity. Those lonely times are made much better thanks to visits from her friend, Sarah.
“Sarah coming in is the absolute highlight of her day,” says Marie-Claire. “Music therapy is a big part of the reason why Evelyn thinks of the hospital as a place she likes and wants to be.”
Evelyn uses a combination of sign language and speech to communicate so Sarah incorporates sign language into their songs to promote language development.
“Music therapists are in a very unique position in that we get to form relationships with patients over longer periods of time and offer a positive experience in a hospital setting,” says Sarah. “I have seen Evelyn for a few years now and she knows that when I come our time will be filled with music and singing and laughter.
“Children and families come here often in a time of crisis and uncertainty,” she adds. “Music therapy offers them an opportunity to connect with each other in a more relaxed setting. It also offers families a reprieve from the ongoing medical treatments – a time for their children to play and not have to think about their illness or injury.”