Thrive by IU Health

June 03, 2021

Heartbeats keep loved ones close when family members’ hearts ache

IU Health University Hospital

Heartbeats keep loved ones close when family members’ hearts ache

Music therapy is part of the IU Health’s CompleteLife Program, attending to the mind, body, and spirit of patients and their families. One part of music therapy provides a lasting memory after a patient passes.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes tfender1@iuhealth.org

It was an extremely intimate moment. The clock was ticking. The minutes were quickly passing even as the IV dripped pain-reducing medication into the patient’s veins.

The patient was 34. He had been diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. One of his final wishes was to marry his fiancé. He knew after their first date that she was the one. They had known each other for three years and started a life together in a five-bedroom home, raising five daughters.

Then the illness hit like a monster appearing from the fog. By the time he reached the medical intensive care unit of IU Health University Hospital, the patient knew his days at his five-bedroom house were numbered. The wedding was planned at his hospital bedside. The nurses, social workers, and a chaplain arranged a short but meaningful ceremony. There was cake and toasts - goblets filled with grape juice.

There was also music.

The patient had played guitar, so the melody brought familiarity. It brought him peace during an uncertain time.

Long after his hospital room cleared and it was just the patient and his new bride, IU Health music therapist Adam Perry continued to provide music. As he strummed the guitar, Perry also recognized that time was short for the newlyweds. He offered them a special gift – a recording of the patient’s heartbeat that Perry set to music.

Recording of the patient's heartbeat set to music

They quickly offered up their favorite tune, “I the Mighty,” by the Australian rock band Degenerates.

The words to the song include: I never would have thought it could ever be this good, and I know each moment's fleeting but right now I feel like I'm right where I should be.”

Perry placed a small stethoscope on the patient’s chest and within minutes recorded his heartbeat. Last year, music therapists at IU Health adult hospitals provided about half a dozen heartbeat recordings to patient families. Most were provided to those whose loved ones were near the end of life. The heartbeat recordings have also been gifted to IU Health families of organ donors, recording the beating heart transplanted into a patient.

For the 34-year-old patient, Perry knew of his background in music. The patient had played electric and acoustic guitar since the age or 10. He also played saxophone, had an ear for heavy metal and was once a member of a rock band.

Perry added piano music and interspersed the patient’s heartbeat. The final recording – given to the patient’s wife - was a way of preserving the patient’s memory after his passing.

“The opportunity to do heartbeat recordings is just a small part of the continuum of care that CompleteLife Music Therapists offer to patients - which can range from initial diagnoses, to end-of-life situations - in order to support patients and their families through individualized music interventions,” said Perry.

The patient’s wife and daughters had one more month with him at home. He took his final breath on Christmas Day. In a tribute to the patient, his family expressed their appreciation to the entire staff at IU Health.

Today, they remember “Matthew” as a hard-working husband and father. They remember him for his creativity – his love of art – watercolors, woodworking and drawing. They remember him for his love of camping and exploring the outdoors with his family. They remember him for his interest in astronomy, and apocalyptic zombie books and movies.

And when they play the original heartbeat recording, they remember his love of music.