As she briskly moves through the halls, nurses appear at every corner to sing alongside, some gently reaching out to twirl her around, just like her favourite princess Belle, from Beauty and the Beast.
With a posse now in tow, Kelsey’s mother Ivy does her best to guide her daughter to the playroom. While the six-year-old is unable to see the area, she knows where the toys are and holds one up every few moments to ask her mother its colour.
“Kelsey was not always blind,” said Ivy. “She remembers colours; she knows that the sun is yellow and the grass is green.”
In 2014, at the age of three, Kelsey was diagnosed with a type of cancer in the brain, and on the same day, became fully and permanently blind. Kelsey would spend the next three months at BC Children’s undergoing chemotherapy treatment and it was during this time she discovered her talent and passion for music.
“The music therapy program at BC Children’s has made a significant difference for Kelsey in her treatment,” said Ivy. “Music has put our family at ease and supported Kelsey in building her confidence which has helped her understand that she is not limited in the things she can do.”
Twice a week during her extended stay at BC Children’s, a music therapist visited Kelsey’s bedside to sing and play music. Soon enough Kelsey began looking forward to these visits; she picked up words to songs and quickly learned how to sound out notes through instruments.
“For children like Kelsey, playing, exploring or learning a musical instrument and singing songs can alleviate the stress associated with a hospital visit by providing opportunities for creative play and self-expression,” said Erin Johnston, music therapist at BC Children’s. “Singing and playing music with a music therapist allows children to express and explore their feelings around their diagnosis and subsequent treatment and allows them opportunities to make choices and gain back some control in their day-to-day.”
December 2014 was Kelsey’s first Christmas away from home, and like other kids at the hospital, she was invited to Santa’s Workshop to pick a gift. Ivy remembers how Kelsey used her tiny fingers to feel through the selection of toys, and soon enough Kelsey found what she wanted – a keyboard piano. Kelsey took the piano back to her room where she would practice for hours on end, with other kids, and admired music therapists.
“As a therapist, I find a lot of joy in creating the time and space for children to play, create and express. I believe that music therapy can give children tools to help alleviate some of the anxiety associated with medical treatments and long hospital stays and allow parents the gift of seeing the spark of their child’s personality emerge again,” said Erin. “Working with Kelsey and watching her talents and confidence grow has been an absolute pleasure.”
Today, Kelsey’s love for music continues to grow. In the last few years she has learned to play all sorts of instruments including the piano, guitar and violin; she is also a part of a choir for blind children. Kelsey loves to dance and sing along to her favourite movie, The Sound of Music and music artist, Celine Dion.
“Kelsey is happiest when she is singing or playing an instrument,” said Ivy. “Her passion for music began at BC Children’s and it continues to grow – it has brought so much joy to Kelsey, and to our entire family.”
Music therapists at BC Children’s and Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children (Sunny Hill) work with children of all ages—from infants to teens—to help reduce anxiety and pain, and increase motivation. Music therapy helps refocus attention and is a source of emotional support. Among many benefits, it can also influence the heart rate and blood pressure of children and improve their quality of life during their stay at BC Children's or Sunny Hill.
March is Music Therapy Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the important and valuable work done by music therapists across Canada.