Music Therapist helps heal children at Covenant Hospital - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Music Therapist helps heal children at Covenant Hospital

Jeanine Wheeler (Source: Ashlyn Tubbs) Jeanine Wheeler (Source: Ashlyn Tubbs)
Source: Ashlyn Tubbs Source: Ashlyn Tubbs
Source: Ashlyn Tubbs Source: Ashlyn Tubbs
Liam Loya (Source: Ashlyn Tubbs) Liam Loya (Source: Ashlyn Tubbs)
Source: Ashlyn Tubbs Source: Ashlyn Tubbs

While doctors and nurses treat patients at Covenant Health System, there is one staff member who uses a nontraditional method to make them feel better.

"There's a science to it,' Jeanine Wheeler said. "It's really not totally magic."

For the past year-and-a-half, Wheeler has practiced music therapy at Covenant Children's Hospital as one of at least 100 children's hospitals countrywide that has a board certified music therapist.

"In a nutshell, we work with any variety of kids and we use music to treat whatever they need help on," she said. "You see the light bulb go on, or you see them do something that everybody said they couldn't do."

Wheeler first got her start in music as a child, since her father was a professional bassoonist.

"That does odd things to you growing up," she said.

Her primary instrument is the piano.

"Music is my way of interacting with the world," she said, "and for me to be able to use that to help folks…that's my thing."

That is why she chose her music to fill hospital rooms, not performance halls.

"Music is a very powerful tool," Wheeler said. "It can do a lot more than you expect it can."

She tends to use a guitar and brings along maracas and tambourines to engage with an audience like the Loyas.

"This was his 18th surgery," Chelsea Loya said. "Eight of his first surgeries were in his first year."

Chelsea's five-year-old son, Liam Loya, was born with a brain birth defect.

"Between the surgeries and infections and hospitalizations for pneumonia or something, we've been in hospital quite a bit," Chelsea said.

That means Liam requires constant medicine and pokes from needles.

"He has been messed with so many times," Chelsea said.

But Wheeler brings just the right instruments to his hospital room.

 "Music is one of the things he loves," Wheeler said. "Right now, one of his big goals is to sit up for a period of time…and that is so stinkin' boring for a five-year-old. So one of the things I do is I bring in my drums, I bring in my shakers…we sing our favorite songs and the time flies by, and he's able to meet his goals without necessarily thinking about it as much."

This is the one dosage Liam actually cannot wait for.

"It's really great that he has something that he actually loves to interact with here," Chelsea said.

Wheeler picks a specific music style for each of her different patients, and Liam responds to children's songs the most. He sits stable between Chelsea and a nurse as they guide his hands to play the instruments along with Wheeler.

"Even if I only see a child for 15 minutes in their entire life, I get to touch that life and it's a joy and a gift and a privilege," Wheeler said. "Once you're one of my kids, you're always one of my kids.

Even Jeanine's supervisors, like Christine Neugebauer, have heard about her musical connections with patients.

"I think what brings me the most joy is when I get the feedback not only from the staff, but particularly from the patients and families and hearing how she has impacted their recovery," Neugebauer said.

Neugebauer can only imagine what Wheeler could accomplish if she had more time to spend with her patients.

"What's interesting is that Jeanine is only here as a part-time employee,' she said. "Right now, the music therapist position is not full-time…and so sometimes that makes it even harder to do program development."

Someday, Neugebauer hopes Wheeler will even be able to work with patients of all ages.

"We work with across a lifespan, so you know, working with adults with cancer that are in pain," she said. "Music therapy can be a wonderful tool to help them in their journey with cancer, so that would be very exciting fro me to see that growth over time."

But for now, Wheeler pushes herself each day through her developmental interactions with children.

"Those little smile moments throughout the day make some of the harder days easier," she said, "because you know, there are days when we have children die…and when I get those times when I just get to sit with a kid and bang on drums and he smiles and he meets his goals? It's just sunshine."

To support Wheeler and the music therapy program at Covenant, Neugebauer said anyone can donate to the Covenant Foundation and specify music therapy so they can buy more instruments and even help fund full-time positions.

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