By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, email@example.com
The soft, soothing voice of Bella Klotz puts everyone in the room at ease. Especially tiny Olivia Cruz Solis.
Klotz is a music therapist who spends most of her time with the patients in the pediatric intensive care unit at Riley Hospital for Children.
PICU patients are among the sickest in the hospital, but 7-month-old Olivia is having a good day. Her eyes lock onto Klotz’s as the therapist strums a guitar and sings a lullaby, “I See the Moon.”
Olivia wears a spectacular smile as she listens to Klotz’s gentle voice, while others in the room tune out the beeps of medical equipment that threaten to distract from this special moment.
“We bond to a shared beat here,” Klotz says as she pulls out other instruments of therapy – a thin drum, a cabasa (another percussion instrument), a xylophone, rattles and books.
“We do finger wiggles and tummy tickles. Shall we show ‘em your skills, Olivia?”
She launches into another song, “The Ants Go Marching,” while she uses Olivia’s tiny feet to tap the drum she’s quietly beating and adapts the song to the patient before her.
“The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah. The ants go marching one by one, Olivia stops to play the drum, and they all go marching down, to the ground, to get out of the rain.”
“Music therapy here at Riley provides an additional layer of support and an opportunity for patients and their families to connect in a way that they normally aren’t able to,” Klotz said.
In concert with other therapies that Olivia receives, Klotz is able to help support her patient’s sensory development, while her colleagues work on other developmental skills.
Olivia has been at Riley since she was born in January, suffering from spina bifida, hydrocephalus and a heart valve defect. She has endured two heart procedures (Dr. Mark Turrentine) and multiple brain surgeries (Dr. Laurie Ackerman), as well as a tracheostomy and placement of a G-tube for feeding.
All of this hasn’t dimmed her light. She is sweet and feisty, says her great aunt, Connie Bastin. And she is strong.
Olivia’s mom, Casey Solis, says just having her daughter here is more than she thought possible. Doctors had prepared her for serious complications before Olivia’s birth at 37 weeks.
She wasn’t even sure her baby was going to make it. But Olivia’s activity in the womb gave her hope.
“She was wild,” Solis said, adding that after previous lost pregnancies, she is finally a first-time mom. “At 37, I finally have my baby.”
Klotz has been working with Olivia since the little girl moved over to the PICU from the NICU. The music therapist has been a constant in Olivia’s life, said Bastin, who goes by Grandma in this room and can’t wait to take Olivia shopping someday.
“She loves the music,” Bastin said. “And she is just the love of our lives.”
“She’s a champ,” said Klotz of her young patient. When Klotz begins singing, “How Much Is That Doggy in the Window?” Olivia bats her impossibly long eyelashes and smiles.
It’s almost a miracle that she can smile, considering all she’s been through, but that’s why therapy is all the more important.
“Anything we can do to provide some sense of normalcy and engage them in a way that another child might be able to do outside the hospital, we do it,” Klotz said.
“It doesn’t cross people’s minds sometimes that some babies are here almost their entire first year,” she added. “For this trach and vent population, it is a lengthy stay. When you think of all those firsts, those things we take for granted, it’s a big deal when a milestone is met.”
Olivia has improved by leaps and bounds, Klotz said. Every time she meets a developmental milestone, like grasping for a toy or holding up her head, it’s reason to celebrate.
Earlier this week, Olivia took a ride around the unit in a Riley wagon. It was her first trip outside her room, with the exception of medical procedures. Imagine what it will be like for to go outside for the first time.
“We can’t wait until we can take her out and show her the trees,” Bastin said. “Everything is new to her.”
Olivia could go home as early as next week, once Solis and Bastin complete their solo caregiving sessions under the watchful eye of Riley nurses.
“She’s kicking butt,” Solis said of her daughter. “She has surprised everybody.”
Another heart surgery is in her future, but the hope is that she can settle in at home for a few months before returning to Riley.
Klotz ends her session with a book called “Snuggle Puppy.” She encourages Olivia to help turn the pages while she sings, “Fuzzy little Snuggle Puppy, I love you.”
“We try our best to settle their heartrate, raise their oxygenation level and soothe in every way,” Klotz said.
It seems to be working, as Olivia stretches and yawns.
“I love this population of patients because they are here for such a long time,” the therapist said. “The ones we are able to provide music therapy to really benefit.”
Photos and video by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org