Holiday Caroling Generates an Astonishing Response from an ICU Patient

When the nurses at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center had their morning huddle in preparation for another day in the ICU, they knew it was going to be a special day. While their normal days involve treating patients in crisis, this day would include the annual visit from LA Opera’s Holiday Music Tour.

LA Opera artists sing at City of Hope Medical Center for the Hope for the Holidays concert

Every year since 2011, patients and their families have enjoyed the gift of holiday music and an escape from their days in the hospital. For some, it would be the only respite from the difficult situation they were facing. A little “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World” would bring smiles, laughter, and even joyful bouncing up and down from children amid the sound of heart monitors and respirators.

After performing in front of the nurse’s station in the adult ICU, the mother of one of the patients approached the singers, asking if they could come to her son’s room and perform his favorite carol. He had been in the ICU for months and was unresponsive. The singers were led to his room, which had windows all around it allowing the hospital staff to keep a close eye on him. Today, those windows allowed all of the staff to witness what happened next.

The singers began to sing “Feliz Navidad” while his mother sat by his side. As the music filled his room he began to smile. Then, to the joy and amazement of everyone watching, he began to sing along. By the time the song finished, everyone there was fighting back tears or simply crying openly.

“When you sing with the heart you are able to communicate” said Azar Kattan, Chief Operations Officer for Harbor UCLA, “There is an impact not only on the patient but on the whole hospital.”

“He’s like family to me,” said Noemi Banzuela, a nurse who has cared for this patient for months and formed a close bond with his mother. Everyone there was inspired to see an otherwise unresponsive patient respond to music.

Azar Kattan (center) with LA Opera singers Eli Villanueva, Melissa Treinkman, LeRoy Villanueva, Ashley Faatoalia and Lisa Eden

While this man’s response was extraordinary, it is not unique. Performers in the LA Opera program can likely cite dozens of similar reactions from the patients they have visited over the last six years. Additionally, there’s growing scientific evidence that music can contribute to healing, both physical and mental, inspiring artists and researchers to explore this exciting connection together.

To this end, in February of 2018 renowned soprano Renée Fleming partnered with LA Opera and USC’s Visions and Voices to present “Music as Medicine”, a unique and free event exploring the connection between music and the mind.

Learn more about LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement Department here.

LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.
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