Singing Moms Help Premature Babies Recover

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 24, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Every day a star is born in Music City, and while most find their beat on Broadway, others come to life in less conspicuous spaces.

“I am going to loop this song several times,” said Ellyn Hamm inside her less than lavish recording studio.

“I'm using garage band to edit,” she added.

But the tracks she laid down inside the cubicle at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital have been saving lives.

“I actually decided to be a music therapist when I was a junior in high school,” Ellyn said.

She has spent most of her days on the Neonatal Intensive floor of the hospital, with some of the tiniest, most fragile of babies like Matthew Parker.

Doctors were able to predict that Matthew Parker would be born with Down syndrome, what no one could see coming though was his arrival at just 29 weeks.

“It was on April 9 and he weighed 2.6 pounds,” his mom Kit recalled.

Ten weeks premature and with a hole in his heart, little Matthews’s arrival made Kit and Gordon Parker's hearts stop.

“It was very scary it was really scary, we worried about his size being so premature and having Down syndrome,” Gordon recalled.

Unable to breathe or eat on his own, doctors decided to move him from Chattanooga to Vanderbilt.

“A few days after his arrival the doctors are using 'it's grave' and you really think he may not make it,” Gordon said about his son.

These days he’s mostly stable but Matthew's muscles in his mouth have been so weak he can't breast feed.

“As a mom that's hard, it's so counter-intuitive not to be able to breast feed,” Kit said.

But that's where the beat of Music City comes in.

“So the speakers are on the side of this machine,” explained Ellyn Hamm looking at a small plastic box playing music next to Matthews head inside his room at the NICU.

As a music therapist Ellyn Hamm has spent 15 minutes a day with Matthew, her instrument of choice isn't an instrument at all.

“We call it PAL for short but it's the 'pacifier activated lullaby'” she explained.

Each time Matthew sucks on this specially made pacifier he hears a song, a lullaby recorded specially for him by his mom.

“He did not want to take this pacifier the first time I worked with him,” Ellyn recalled.

If Matthew creates enough pressure on the pacifier he gets to hear his mother's voice, a kind of positive reinforcement only music can create.

Arguably her job in the NICU though has been equally as important.

“They already associate mom with a soothing voice, so once they hear mom singing they get so calm,” the music therapist said.

“It's been a challenge to watch him learn everything,” Matthews’s mom added.

As for whether this has been working, when he first arrived Matthew had no idea how to use a bottle.

“There's something to it, it's working,” his parents said in unison.

Everyday musicians come to life in Music city but one could say music has been giving Matthew life.

“This kid's a fighter, he's a fighter.”