New music program at UCSF Medical Center

May 14, 2008 8:55:27 AM PDT
Music and medicine can go hand-in-hand to help heal patients. That's what doctors at one of the leading medical schools in the country believe. So Wednesday, they're launching a new music program in San Francisco.

UCSF Medical Center is turning up the volume. The 7th floor has been rocking out - the music has lifted the mood of the hospital's youngest patients and the staff who takes care of them.

"Sort of like no matter what you do it sounds great. So just go for it," said Gabe Turow, UCSF musician in residence.

Going for it could mean so many different things to these kids. They aren't just pounding on a drum or strumming a guitar. The harmony they create together could be healing them.

"There's 100 good reasons you'd want to have music or other kinds of art in this environment, because it's otherwise so sensory deprived," said Turow.

Yet UCSF has just hired Gabe Turow as its musician in residence to teach hospitalized kids how to play musical instruments. When you see the kids react - it seems pretty obvious this is a good idea. But hospital administrators say this is the only program like this in the Bay Area.

Ten-year-old Melissa Macalisang has been at UCSF for more than a month battling a malformation in her brain. She doesn't know when she will get to go home. The music class only fills a couple of hours in her week, but her mother says the difference is huge.

"She likes it, she's all smiles and definitely she likes music," said Maria Macalisang, patient's mother.

Turow has been researching the impact of music on the brain at Stanford. He says his findings prove there's a reason music makes you feel good.

"It can do significant things to stave off depression anxiety and general stress," said Turow.

Which is why he not only teaches these kids to play - he also plays for them. Turow will often take an instrument to a child's bedside and help calm them down during a stressful procedure.

"This one little boy was really upset because he was having his electrodes put on," said Turow.

Instead of sedating him, doctors called in Turow. He started playing a song he wrote on an instrument called the Kalumba.

After several minutes, the one-year-old boy grabbed a bottle, climbed into bed and eventually fell asleep.

"We managed to bring the entire situation to a sane calm place. It was extremely helpful there were no drugs involved," said Turrow.

Turow can go on and on about the physiological and healing benefits of the music. Or you can just ask Melissa, who at the young age of 10, seems to understand perfectly why she's here.

"Because it keeps us going," said Melissa.

UCSF was able to hire the musician in residence because of a grant from the group Rock Against Cancer. Don't let the name fool you, they open the music class to all kids in the hospital. But the grant will only cover the cost of having him on staff through the end of the year. Hospital administrators are looking for donors who can help them keep this program going.


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