The American naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “When I hear music, I fear no danger.” This sentiment is almost universally true, even for patients facing the end of life. Music therapy grew from this understanding.
Music has been used as a therapeutic tool for millennia. Hippocrates himself is said to have played his harp as a therapy for mentally ill patients more than two thousand years ago. More recently, music has been used to treat everything from anxiety to heart disease and stroke, and to help premature babies thrive.
Brian Schreck, a music therapist at Norton Women’s and Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, KY, uses a Thinklabs One digital stethoscope to create recordings that help terminally ill children and their grieving parents endure physical and emotional pain. By using the One to capture the child’s heartbeat, and then integrating the heartbeat over a favorite song, he creates a “legacy” gift for the families.
“I realized I could capture a patient’s rhythmic essence - their heartbeat - and add it to music that was meaningful to the patient and his or her family,” Schreck wrote in an email.
Schreck discovered that music was a powerful healing modality, when, as a young man he would accompany his mother on visits to nursing homes, where they would give communion. He says he started playing his saxophone on these visits, and soon noticed how the music would affect a change in the residents: smiles, tears, even an occasional dance.
“These early experiences showed me what the end of life could look like, as well as the general healing powers of live music,” he writes.
Later, Schreck, who has a master’s degree in music therapy, did an internship at Beth Israel Medical Center, working with adults who’d been diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses. Working with the palliative care team, he began using music to ease the pain of these terminally ill patients.
“I was able to use music to help people when they were very sick,” he says.
He continued on the music therapy path at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center in Queens, and then moved to Cincinnatti Children’s Hospital, where he started using video and audio recordings to create legacy gifts for families.
“While working in the ICU, it was hard to document anything that anyone would want to remember,” Schreck recalls. “I was interested in the heartbeat; the heartbeat was at the center of the work in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.”
So, he began recording heart sounds. Schreck selected the Thinklabs One to capture these vital sounds because of its high-end digital recording and sharing capabilities.
“I also love how small it is and that you can listen while you record,” he notes.
He uses the Thinklabs One stethoscope in songwriting, as well. The reactions he receives from families is overwhelmingly positive. “These can be a very meaningful preservation of their loved one’s life, a symbol of love,” Schreck says.
Schreck has been recognized as a leader by peers in the American Society of Music Therapists. He’s been profiled by People Magazine and featured on ABC News. Most important, he’s been able to affect real change by helping people who have lost a loved one, and by enhancing the quality of days at the end of life.
“This is really the foundation of music therapy: utilizing music to help and support patients and family members address their emotional and social needs,” he wrote.
Listen to a sample of Schreck’s legacy recordings here.