How to Use Music Therapy to Heal and Triumph: Zoe’s Powerful Story

How do you find hope when a teen’s medical condition causes her to be completely unresponsive and unable to communicate?

Read Zoe’s story below to find out how music therapy played an integral role in her recovery, and visit our contributions page to learn how you can help other children that need this therapy!

Zoe's Story Text and a FamilyZoe Crouse, a 14-year-old with a fiery, fun-loving and caring spirit with an immense love and appreciation for music, was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  In November 2017, she experienced a cardiac arrest and a left cerebellum stroke which resulted in severe neurologic devastation and led her to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital for treatment.

After the cardiac arrest, Zoe went from being an energetic vibrant teenager living a “normal life” to becoming ultimately unresponsive to stimuli and unable to communicate with others. Zoe experienced multiple assessments from medical professionals that all reported minimal to no responsiveness. Zoe’s family was devastated by this drastic change in her and they were told by many specialists that she may never regain neurologic function or be able to rehabilitate. 

A Bright Sounding Future with Music Therapy

The first beacon of hope for Zoe’s family came when she received her initial music therapy session facilitated by Music Therapy Intern, Sandra Cheah under supervision of Expressive Arts Therapies Manager and Board Certified Music Therapist, Jenna Bollard.

Zoe’s parents Corey and Stacy shared more information about Zoe’s relationship to music, and told Sandra that Zoe had just recently gone to her first concert with her dad, Corey, to see her favorite artist, Andrew McMahon perform. Sandra learned one of Andrew McMahon’s songs and played it bedside for Zoe and saw an instant emotional reaction arise from Zoe for the first time since her cardiac arrest and stroke. Zoe began to cry to the music and respond with facial expressions, communicating a cognitive awareness and association to the music. This reaction was a pivotal turning point in Zoe’s journey.

Sandra began providing music therapy services to Zoe as much as possible. She focused on providing consistent evidenced-based Neurologic Music Therapy interventions developed by Dr. Michael Thaut to stimulate neurologic rehabilitation and the creation of new neuropathways in Zoe’s brain. Under direct clinical supervision, Sandra was able to provide meaningful evidenced-based music interventions to promote stimulation and retraining of Zoe’s fine and gross motor movement, along with encouraging autonomy, choice and ulterior modes of communication. Sandra provided an outlet for emotional release and expression for Zoe and her whole family throughout the emotional roller coaster they were experiencing during her medical journey.

Music therapy worked in collaboration with physical therapy, speech therapy and the medical team towards Zoe’s clinical goals and consistently advocated the unique responses that were arising exclusively during Music Therapy sessions.

During music therapy Zoe was able to hum, verbalize the word “Mom,” reach for the piano, communicate needs and wants, laugh, cry and release, follow directions and musical cues, and demonstrate a relaxation response in light of frequent stressors such as neurostorming and agitation.

Getting Behind Music Therapy

Beyond providing the consistent clinical support of regularly scheduled evidence-based music interventions within the therapeutic relationship, The Expressive Arts Therapies program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital also invited Zoe’s favorite artist, Andrew McMahon, to come perform to her and her family at bedside. Andrew generously came to the hospital specifically to visit Zoe and her family.

In the video below you will see him singing and playing the first song that stimulated her initial emotional reaction during her music therapy sessions, “Cecilia and the Satellite.”

In mid-January 2018, Zoe is now preparing for discharge and will be admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

Zoe’s dad Corey stated, “The little bit of hope that we received in our first music therapy session with Zoe provided us with the hope that we needed to carry on to where we are today. It’s really been a game changer and something that we feel very strongly about. As we move on outside of UCLA, we are really excited to get her this very specialized therapy any way that we possibly can.”

Zoe’s story truly highlights the power of music and its ability to reach us when nothing else can. This story also communicates the importance of the integration of Board Certified Music Therapists within the multidisciplinary medical team in order to provide support to the whole person and provide insights from a completely unique and specialized lens. Music can bring up emotions and reactions within us, motivate us, relax us, connect us and help to rehabilitate us in such a profound and meaningful way.

Thank you for taking the time to hear Zoe’s story. She and her family are true warriors and are an inspiration to us all.

Zoe is just one of the many that experience the benefits of music therapy! Make a difference for children and teens like her by donating to the Peterson Family Foundation today.