Patients benefitting from music therapy

By Christina Killion Valdez

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

For about an hour Monday, Tim Bays slipped off his hospital bracelets, and although he didn’t leave his room at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital, it felt more like home.

The 16-year-old from Lake Holcombe, Wis., leaned against the raised back of his hospital bed and, just like he would at home, played his electric guitar. Only instead of playing with his guitar instructor or band, Bays was accompanied by board-certified music therapist Christina Ufer Kane.

Since Bays was admitted to the hospital March 15 for aggressive treatment for Burkitt’s lymphoma, he and Ufer Kane have met weekly to work on increasing the teen’s self esteem, relaxation and creating a sense of normalcy through music.


"This is normal for me. This is what I like to do," Bays said, his purple electric guitar plugged into a small amplifier in the otherwise quiet hospital room. "I have a pretty serious disease going on, but for an hour to an hour and a half a week, I concentrate on music and forget about cancer."

Each therapy session also helps Bays move forward in his treatment, Ufer Kane said.

An established healthcare profession, music therapy uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals, according to the American Music Therapy Association. The music therapy program at Mayo Clinic started last fall with a $10,000 donation from the St. John Block Party.

Through the program, Ufer Kane spends each Monday working one-on-one with pediatric patients who’ve been referred for music therapy by Child Life specialists. During each session she switches between playing instruments, including a small, hand-held harp, drums, guitar, as well as techniques, such as deep breathing depending on the individual’s needs and goals. She also teaches patients exercises they can work on individually like a physical therapist would, she said.

Although Bays is musically talented, having played guitar for five years, patients do not need musical talent to benefit from therapy, she said, adding the goals of music therapy are not music related.

A music therapy session last fall helped 13-year-old Ronica Meitler of Smith Center, Kan., learn to express her emotions. Meitler has a seizure disorder that isolated her and made her socially close up, said her mother, Barb Meitler.

"It had been two years since I’d seen daughter cry or laugh appropriately," Barb Meitler said. "After one 30-minute session, she was laughing and crying and just showed a whole realm of different emotions that I hadn’t seen before."

Ronica started playing drums in band at school and wants to start guitar lessons, both of which were inspired by the session with Ufer Kane.


"It gets you really cheered up and excited about doing it over and over," Ronica Meitler said. "It gets your mind off of what you’re doing."

Bays shares a similar story.

He continued to play even when he suffered from mouth sores because of the chemo therapy and couldn’t talk. Yet sometimes, like when he was getting an IV started, he can’t play. Still Ufer Kane can continue to work with and soothe him with music.

This week, though, Bays was ready to show Ufer Kane he’d learned the new song she’d given him. After the two played "Grace Like Rain" together, Bays on his purple electric guitar and Ufer Kane on acoustic, she told him, "You’ve come so far."

Then it was her turn.

Bays also had given Ufer Kane an assignment — learn to play Ozzy Osbourne’s "Crazy Train."

As the two played the rapid power chords together, Ufer Kane pleaded, "Don’t go any faster, I’m concentrating."

It’s a scene that makes both laugh. Watching it all with pride, Bays’ father, Jim Wood, said, "We are where we are supposed to be."


And although at the moment that place was a hospital room, it felt a lot like home.

For more information, go to


American Music Therapy Association

What To Read Next
Get Local