Music therapy and art change lives

Two weeks ago I went to New York to meet some physicians. One of them was Gabriel Sara.  Dr. Gabriel Sara is a medical oncologist in New York and is affiliated with Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt. I met him two years ago at The International Listening Association Conference in Montreal, were we spoke about the importance of listening in healthcare. We became friends and shared a lot about our passion.20150630_193341

I want to share a few highlights of our meeting. I can’t share everything because of the privacy of patients.

I think one of the wonderful initiatives of Gabe is his monthly breakfast meeting.  The goal of this meeting is to give the caregivers of his department but also from other departments an opportunity to share the emotions and feelings they go through when they face difficult or rewarding situations with various patients. This meeting has been a healing place to many and a bonding one between the various care givers.

At the end of their breakfast meeting they sing a song all together. And it is absolutely wonderful. Hearing all those caregivers sing together ‘ Blowing in the wind’ made me cry.

At one of the meetings they spent time talking about a patient that everyone loved very dearly and who was imminently dying. When they finished the meeting and the singing, their amazing massage therapist said: ” How about if we go all to her and sing for her”….Of course Gabe immediately said: ” Let’s do it!!” So they went at the lady’s bedside who was deeply lethargic and sang for her ‘Imagine’ of John Lennon.  She died 1 hour after their song. When I saw the video, it made me cry again. This is what healthcare is about….

But there is so much more Gabe had to share. He truly believes little things can make the biggest difference in the lives of cancer patients. When his good friend’s wife, Helen Sawaya, passed away from breast cancer in 2005, he and Helen’s husband, Fuad Sawaya, started The Helen Sawaya Fund in her memory. “We wanted to create something that will change cancer patients’ lives, and their experiences through their treatment.” Well they did!


The Helen Sawaya Fund offers patients going through chemotherapy in Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Chemotherapy Infusion Suite a variety of integrative treatments at no cost.

They include:

  • Music therapy
  • Art programs
  • A make-up and hair program
  • Hand massage
  • Pet therapy

The programs have introduced art and music to people who did not suspect they had a liking for it. One patient ended up tapping into an unexplored talent and opening an exhibit of his art after finishing treatment. But is also saw a patient after finishing treatment dancing a Tango with one of the therapists in the Chemotherapy Infusion Suite.

“You should see the transformation in patients. It’s just unbelievable. Every day, I walk in and see our patients who are getting these integrative treatments and it’s really miraculous what it does for them. It also has an incredible impact on the staff. They are happy to see their patients feeling well.”

Art is now offered in the radiation suite as well. Patients waiting for radiation therapy can work with artists on painting and crafts. Music therapy is offered by certified music therapists. The positive impact on patients and their families is so profound that a single session can sometime carry a beneficial effect for several weeks or even months. Music therapy and art are now also offered to the inpatients on the oncology floor at the hospital.

What I heard, felt and experienced during my visit is that it transforms the patient’s entire treatment experience.  These art sessions reminds patients that they are alive!20150630_183737

To learn more about the Helen Sawaya Fund, visit

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