Like many kids his age, Jahziel, 15, is familiar with popular musicians and their songs. At home, he and his friends loved to watch music videos and enjoyed pretending they, too, were pop stars playing their guitars. But that playful fun came to halt when Jahziel was transported to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California with severe burn injuries in March 2019. He spent weeks in the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he met music therapist Ronni Paine.
“I am referred to patients by child life specialists, doctors and nurses who feel a patient can benefit from music therapy. My job is to use music to help patients manage pain and anxiety, improve motor skills, express themselves and cope with being in the hospital,” says Paine, who visits patients at the Northern California Shriners Hospital three days each week. The visits are made possible by a mobile music therapy program called Sophie’s Place, established by the Taylor Family Foundation in partnership with Wells Fargo and the Forever Young Foundation.
The spirit of partnership both inside and outside the hospital made a big difference for Jahziel, whose enthusiasm for music grew with each of Paine’s visits. After being introduced to several different instruments, Jahziel said he wanted to learn how to play the guitar, even though he had limited mobility in his hands and arms. He could play the chords with his right hand, but could not strum with his left.
“I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I knew we could make it happen if we took it one step at a time,” said Paine.
The first step was to get a guitar, which was donated by Little Wishes, an organization that makes wishes come true for hospitalized patients. A local guitar shop made adjustments to the guitar, including realigning the strings so that Jahziel could play with his right hand. Then, the question became how to help Jazhiel strum? Long-time hospital volunteer Keith Teeters devised an answer. A retired engineer, Teeters put his problem-solving skills to work and made a device that allows Jazhiel to strum by moving his leg.
“The challenge was to design something that was sturdy, easy to adjust and provided the perfect amount of tension so the strummer could go across all six strings,” said Teeter, who fine-tuned the device as Jahziel played his first chords on his new guitar. Thanks to a community that cares, Jahziel can be at home with his guitar, fine tuning his skills– just like the pop stars he and his friends admire.