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Healing through music at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital

Harpist Sue Wohld, a certified music practitioner, eases pain and lifts spirits at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. ‘I see people and I make them feel better,’ Wohld says. ‘To me, that’s amazing.’

Hinsdale – Propped up on a skinny elbow, a-15-year-old girl with pneumonia was in the middle of a coughing fit when Sue Wohld wheeled a harp into her intensive care room at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.

“Do you mind?” asked Wohld, poking her head out from behind the harp. “Would you mind if I played you some music?”

The girl smiled and nodded. A few minutes later, the acoustical notes of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” filled the room. Musical notes drifted down the hospital halls to other patients who didn’t even see Wohld enter the unit. A few minutes later, her heart rate went down, her oxygen levels went up and Wohld left the girl smiling and ready for a nap.

For many patients, it’s that easy. A certified music practitioner, Wohld of Downers Grove, plays a small harp at patients’ bedsides two days a week on all different floors of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital. The music differs from music therapy in that it’s not interactive, so all patients have to do is listen. Sometimes Wohld will play for a whole group awaiting outpatient surgery while other times she will give private sessions in patient rooms. Whether she’s playing softly for new babies in the neonatal intensive care unit or softly for patients who are near death, Wohld seems to bring peace with her wherever she goes.

“Every day before I start, I ask God to let me be a blessing,” Wohld said. “I ask Him to let his work flow through me to promote a healing atmosphere.”

Music therapy has evolved into a respected tool in integrative medicine programs in hospitals across the county. It is widely known to help ease pain and reduce stress for both patients and their families. At Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, when nurses see Wohld step onto their floor, many times they are already waiting with a list of patients for her to see.

In fact, when she arrives on each floor, Wohld’s first stop is always the nurse’s station. Then she’ll walk around and introduce herself to patients and explain her service before asking permission to play her music. If a patient is unresponsive, she will obtain permission from a family member. Patients are always free to decline, although rarely they do.

Dressed in a white button-down shirt and black pants, Wohld tries to blend in with the clinical setting around her. It’s her tiny harp pin that reveals her true passion. She’ll mix in Christmas music during the holidays but mainly Wohld selects unrecognizable tunes, nothing that could trigger an unpleasant memory or an emotional response. She does however have “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Wheels on the Bus” ready for her youngest fans.

“I see people who are in pain and I make them feel better,” Wohld said. “Sometimes I feel like I take a little bit of their stress and their pain with me when I leave their room. To me, that’s amazing.”

Wohld was “discovered” by Marcie Calandra, director of nursing process improvement and Magnet project director at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, at a regional meeting for advanced practice nurses a few months ago. Wohld officially joined the hospital in December 2011.

“Sue is unflappable. She goes into a room and connects with patients with such immediately and with such grace,” Calandra said. “It means so much to our patients.”

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Adventist Midwest Health includes Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. To find a physician, visit www.keepingyouwell.com.

Media contact: Sheila Galloro, public relations specialist, Adventist Midwest Health, sheila.galloro@ahss.org; 630-856-2359.