Riley Hospital for Children turns patients’ heartbeats into songs

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s a loss like no other.

A grief that lasts forever.

The ultimate tragedy.

Nearly 30,000 children die every year, several in central Indiana. Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health is working to ease that pain with something they call heartbeat therapy.

“We can record patients’ heartbeats,” music therapist Lauren Servos said. “We want to create positive memories in a stressful place so they have something besides fear to look back on.”

Servos records patients’ heartbeats and then turns them into a song. Often, she does this for parents who have just lost their child.

“They’re going through the worst moments of their life. Finding meaning in this stressful experience is important as parents try to heal,” she explained.

Servos recently recorded Da’nariah Blackmon’s heartbeat. The baby was born at 24 weeks.

“She was a pound and 6 ounces,” said mother Alexis Jones.

Da’nariah’s lungs weren’t fully developed. Doctors quickly became concerned, saying she wasn’t getting enough oxygen to her heart. The baby developed severe pulmonary hypertension and took a turn for the worse.

“My mind was racing,” recalled Dejour Blackmon, the girl's father. “We had to decide whether it was worth our time to see her get better or give up on her right then and there.”

The family was eventually faced with an ultimatum: risk everything and take their child off life support or stay in the hospital for an indefinite amount of time.

Servos recorded the baby’s heartbeat just in case.

“We took her off the machine and she showed everybody different,” Jones lit up. “She’s doing so much better.”

Riley Hospital then offered to turn that baby’s heartbeat into a song--a keepsake for Blackmon and Jones to take home.

“It’s soothing to know we could have had that. Her footprints, little mementos like that are close to our heart because it was her,” Blackmon said.

He chose to match his daughter’s heartbeat to the Daredevil theme song.

“She is constantly fighting obstacles since she was born. Daredevil, that’s what he does. He’s a blind superhero,” he said. “It gives me that feeling that anyone can be a hero that anyone can overcome.”

Seven months now, Da’nariah is finally going home. Her parents are nervous but excited.

“She really went through a hard situation,” they agreed.

Blackmon now plans to tattoo the heartbeat song on his arm.

Servos is also able to use heartbeat therapy to connect patients’ journeys. She offered the service to a family just recently.

“There was a little boy named Luke who had hypoplastic left heart syndrome,” Servos explained. “He spent most of the first year of his life here at the hospital. Ultimately, he needed a heart transplant.”

Because the organ has to match up perfectly, Luke ended up waiting a long time for a new heart. The family started to feel hopeless.

“It was just so hard to see him get so sick,” Servos recalled.

The family, who had a favorite Bible verse, kept their faith. Finally, Luke went into surgery. The transplant was a success.

“I created a musical piece that started with his own heart, then had his special song and ended with his new heart,” Servos said.

Luke is now home. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery and believe he'll live a full and happy life.