Music therapist Joni Papas and Kiresten Thompson, 18, sit in a patient room at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (ETCH). The sound of both their voices fill the air as they sing religious songs Kiresten grew up singing in church.
“It’s immediate excitement. You know, I enjoy getting to sing and play with her, and it just relaxes me,” said Kiersten.
As Joni strums along with her guitar, you see a sense of calm come over Kiersten. Later, she’s scheduled for chemotherapy treatment at the hospital. Kiersten has chordoma, a cancer that occurs in the bones of the skull and spine.
“The thing I love the most is watching them create the music and gain relaxation, or being able to enhance mood and their healing overall,” said Joni. She’s been working with ETCH since September as a music therapist.
Joni brings a ukulele, a guitar, drums and bells for the patients to play. She individualizes each session depending on the patient offering a distraction from the reality of what’s happening.
Joni and Kiersten have been working together for several months and have created a bond of trust.
“She just allows me to talk and express what I’m feeling and everything. So it’s nice. It’s nice to have someone to talk to and relax with,” said Kiersten.
Kiersten’s mom has noticed a big difference in the strength of her voice since starting music therapy.
“I know when she first started, we could just barely get whispers. It was hard to speak a full sentence. And now we are singing full songs,” she said.
Music therapy is part of ETCH’s Pain and Palliative Care program. It’s completely donor funded and also includes massage therapy and essential oils.
“There is no amount of money. You can’t put a price on things like this. It’s priceless,” said Kiersten’s mom.
If you’d like to donate to the program, you can head to ETCH’s website and choose the Pain and Palliative Care Program. You can also call 865-541-8668.
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