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Making a Difference: Musical medicine

7:20 PM, Feb 8, 2012   |    comments
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Meryl Barns is something like a rock star to young, adoring patients. Her tunes help with healing.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Hospitals can be scary places, even for adults. So imagine if you're a child suffering from a life-threatening disease or waiting for a life-saving surgery. It can be a pretty tough thing to deal with at such a young age.

Well, there is a woman who is making a difference by hitting all the right notes and helping Bay area children cope with pain in her own special way. Meryl Barns is something like a rock star to young, adoring patients. Her stage is the playroom in All Children's Hospital and little ones there are her biggest fans.  

It's a job she cherishes. "It's really neat to be able to work with the younger kids and see them interact positively. They're not going to speak to you, but they are going to speak to you through music. You don't have to use words."  

Meryl started playing the violin at 6 years old and picked up the guitar in high school. Parents say a musician's sound is a prescription that can be better than medicine because while these little patients are strumming, banging, and clanging, they aren't thinking about being poked and prodded.  

2-year-old Neveah is having surgery in a week. Her dad says music is just what the doctor ordered. Sessions Byrd said, "I think it's a blessing, it's a healing all in itself just to see somebody else cares about you or come see you and have a musical session with you, specifically, is a good thing."    

Most of the little patients are accustomed to seeing doctors with surgical instruments, but Meryl walks the halls of the hospital with an instrument of the musical kind. Kids who are under the weather are over the moon when she knocks on their door for a one on one.

"It's a good door opener, literally. If you are walking into a room and you have a guitar, they know you're a comfortable patient," said Meryl.

Since September, 7-year-old Nicholas Wolf has spent more than 44 days in the hospital. He's recovering from a rare form of brain cancer and loves it when he and Meryl can have a jam session. "I just like it. It's so much fun," he said.  

Meryl says she has fun, too. "He's amazing, and he smiles. I've seen him get sick and then he just goes back to playing."

Playing through the pain. Meryl says she feels fortunate to play her part in helping kids like Nicholas feel better. "I think knowing that children will be sick no matter what happens, so if I can provide a smile or brighten up their day in any way, then I think that speaks for itself."

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