Lifting spirits at Merced’s Mercy Medical Center with music

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comJune 26, 2014 

A stay in the hospital can be a monotonous experience, but the harmonious sound of a guitar or violin can help raise a patient’s spirit and maybe even put a smile on their face.

Mercy Medical Center’s Volunteer Music Program strives to do just that. The program is currently made up of seven musicians who dedicate a few hours every month to play for patients at the hospital.

The musicians do bedside visits and play in selected common areas of the hospital or cancer center where patients, caregivers and staff can enjoy the music.

The program was created last year by Merced residents Leslie Hendricks and Kim Heyer, who now serve as the program coordinators. Hendricks came up with the idea after spending some time at Stanford Medical Center, where a similar program exists. She persuaded Heyer, her best friend, to help her start a music program at Mercy Medical Center.

Although Hendricks does not play any instruments, she believes music can add to a patient’s recovery process. She recalls that while she was hospitalized, nothing could take her mind off the pain except for the gentle sound of a melodic piece. “The music – it just takes you to a whole different place,” Hendricks said. “It can be such a relief from the dry hospital environment.”

Hendricks said although the program is gaining popularity, the greatest challenge is recruiting volunteers. She said ideally the program would have a core group of 20 musicians that would rotate on a regular basis.

One volunteer is Chris Dodson, a Chowchilla resident who joined Mercy Medical Center’s Music Volunteer Program last November. He works full time as a control room operator in a power plant, but makes a trip to the hospital a few times a month to play his 12-string guitar for patients.

“I just love to play music, and I love to play for others” Dodson said. “I’ve done it all my life.”

Dodson, who has been playing guitar for 47 years, said mellow music seems to relax patients; some of them sing along and others fall asleep peacefully. Some of the patients’ favorites include songs from the Beatles and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, he said.

“These patients … sit there all day. Some of them want to hear music and some of them want to talk about music,” Dodson added. “I’m just here to bring a little joy to their day. It seems like the nice thing to do.”

Similarly, Jeri Sanders, of Atwater, has been playing the violin for more than 50 years. To her, volunteering at the hospital is all about giving back and spreading kindness.

“For me it’s important to share my time, talent and treasure with others,” she said. Sanders smiled as she recalled stories of patients who have thanked her with tears in their eyes for brightening their day. She said these are the type of experiences that bring her great satisfaction.

Sanders plays a combination of classical and Christian pieces, as well as movie theme songs.

“In a hospital environment, oftentimes people are under uncomfortable stress because of surgeries or treatments, and all that can be daunting,” Sanders said. “I think me playing the violin can bring a little bit of comfort to these patients.”

Lesa Byrd, a patient at Mercy Medical Center, requested a visit from the musicians on Thursday. As soon as Dodson began playing for her, a smile appeared on Byrd’s face.

Byrd said the music helps her feel at peace.

“It’s soothing, and it just makes you feel good,” Byrd said. “Even if it’s for a little while, the music takes you away from everything that’s going on.”

The volunteer musicians go through an audition and must meet certain requirements. The program is currently seeking musicians who play stand-alone instruments such as guitar, flute, harp, ukulele and violin.

Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about the program is asked to contact Hendricks at (209) 761-4133 or mercymusicprogram@yahoo.com. Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra@mercedsunstar.com

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