Healthy Choices

Steve Young cuts ribbon on Sophie’s Place music therapy lounge

Sophie’s Place stands out from the immaculate second floor of the new Sutter hospital with its light-up marquee sign, a musically inspired wall collage and a case of noise-canceling headphones.

The high-tech music therapy center, made possible by a $150,000 donation from former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, was dreamed up as an oasis for young patients to play instruments, record songs and watch performances to keep their spirits up during long and sometimes painful hospital stays.

Young himself came by the space at the Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center Tuesday to cut the ribbon, flanked on either side by young patients, some wearing protective masks, but all excited to be out of their hospital rooms for the day.

The Hall of Fame athlete and his wife, Barbara Young, founded the Forever Young Foundation to create just such music rooms in hospitals across the country in the name of Sophie Barton, a family friend and singer-songwriter who died from a heart condition at age 17. With the walls covered in lyrics from Barton’s songs, the space also includes a performance area, a listening nook, a private therapy room and a small recording studio.

“The science behind music therapy and what it does for children is incredible,” said Barbara Young. “We’re just so grateful that Sophie had the vision.”

Music therapy is already used at Sutter Children’s Center and many other hospitals to cheer up or relax young patients staying in the hospital for days on end. Music therapists often use instruments to help a child go to sleep or bring an infant’s heart rate down. An older patient might use songwriting as an outlet to give voice to sadness and frustration while battling a chronic illness.

Until now at Sutter, music therapy had been part of the child life program but did not have a dedicated space. The hospital’s two music therapists travel from room to room each day with a cart full of instruments to visit patients who request the service.

Now that Sutter is only the second U.S. facility with a Sophie’s Place – the first one opened in a Salt Lake City hospital in 2013 – young patients with healthy immune systems will have the option to leave their rooms and visit the space at least once each day. The hospital also plans to invite local volunteer musicians to hold workshops with the children. On Tuesday, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting and jazz musician Mark Isham performed for a handful of children and a flock of media at the ribbon cutting.

“The minute you walk in you don’t feel like you’re in a hospital,” said Amy Medovoy, child life coordinator for the hospital. “It takes them out of the stressful environment they’re in and into this special place.”

Emma Parker, a 10-year-old leukemia patient who has been in and out of Sutter since last year, requests music therapy every time she’s in the hospital, said her mother, Shannon Parker. The curly-haired girl dabbles on the keyboard, bongo drums and maracas.

“The kids get very depressed,” her mother said. “The music therapy just helps put a smile on her face. She’ll be so upset about having to be in the hospital, and then (the music therapists) will come in and it’s just a whole new world.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola