Student volunteers bring sounds of solace to terminally ill patients

February 28, 2013

Sometimes music and a visit from young people are the best solace for hospice patients. UNT Health Science Center students provide both as they contribute to a healthier community by helping comfort those in need.

Every week, a dozen students meet at Community Hospice of Texas, which leases space in the James L. West Special Care Center. They visit patients in their rooms and sing hymns in four-part harmony. If the patient and family wish, they join hands and pray.

The students are part of a choir that creates comforting moments for the patients and their loved ones. "They’re especially touched by young people devoting time to this, even if they don’t know they’re very busy graduate students," hospice Volunteer Coordinator Judith Pickering said on a recent evening. The dozen-member choir warmed up with The Old Rugged Cross, a patient’s special request, before visiting patients’ private rooms.

"That was pretty," says a 102-year-old patient after hearing her old favorite, "I used to play piano."

In a room down the hall, choristers take a moment to pet a miniature dachshund accompanying middle-aged sisters visiting their unconscious mother. When the singers open their hymnals, one of the sisters joins in.

The choir sings a mini-concert for each patient. Says Pickering, "For the men who feel they must be stoic in the last part of life, the music is an opening to express emotion."

The choir was founded a few years ago by students in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Now co-directed by Karen Duong and Whitney Brock, it embraces students from all the UNTHSC schools, plus community members. It’s kept organized by the UNTHSC Christian Medical Association and by Community Hospice, whose medical director is Janet Lieto, DO, UNTHSC Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine.

The students are quick to say they’re grateful for the opportunity to serve hospice patients. "It’s a learning experience that takes me beyond classwork," says Whitney Brock. "The rewards are many and priceless. We make a connection. One patient blew us kisses."

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