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February 18, 2020

Singing nurses keep going viral. Could their music actually help patients heal?

Daily Briefing

    Kathleen Sarnes, a hospice nurse for Visiting Nurse Service of New York, is popular among her patients for a unique gift: her singing voice—a musical gift that researchers believe may also have health benefits, Yael Federbush and Scott Stump report for Today.

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    The singing hospice nurse

    Music is something very important to Sarnes, and as she travels Staten Island visiting patients, she brightens their day with her voice.

    "Music is something that really speaks to me as a person, and I kind of pass that along to my patients," Sarnes said. She added, "Nursing isn't just giving medications. You're catering to a person's mind, body, and spirit."

    One of her patients, Billy Caputo, a former World Wrestling Entertainment referee, loves to hear Sarnes sing, and Caputo's daughter, Kate Miley, believes that music has helped keep her father alive.

    "We got Kathleen for a reason," Miley said. "And I truly, truly believe … that he wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."

    Sarnes is far from the first nurse to gain acclaim for singing. In December, Alex Collazo, an RN at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Centennial, went viral thanks to a video of her singing a duet with Penn Pennington, a musician and patient at the institute.

    Other nurses have had similar experiences. A video featuring Mikea Braden, a nurse technician at St. Thomas Hospital, singing "Amazing Grace" to a 71-year-old patient went viral after being posted on Facebook and has been viewed over 50,000 times.

    Similarly, in 2013, Jared Axen, then an RN at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, was featured in a viral video in which he became known as "The Singing Nurse" because he would routinely sing during daily rounds.

    How music can help patients

    Research suggests that music can help alleviate pain and anxiety in patients receiving hospice care, Federbush and Stump report. Last year, the Sound Health Initiative received $20 million over five years from NIH to study how music could treat a variety of conditions.

    "Physiologically, music can be very helpful in lowering the heart rate, [and] lowering blood pressure," Sarnes said. "It helps to build rapport with people, and if you have that rapport, they're going to be more likely to adhere to the plan of care that you give them."

    For Sarnes, music has always been a source of comfort. "You have these thoughts that are racing and racing, and music just slows the whole world down," she said. "When you're feeling anxious, it can just calm everything" (Federbush/Stump, Today, 2/11).

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