A Mending Melody

Meg Holloway felt powerless, terrified and incredibly humbled. The working mother lay mostly motionless in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, the very same place where she was a nurse and navigator for patients and their families in the Breast Center. She wasn’t supposed to be the one trapped in a hospital bed.

“I was in such physical pain,” says Holloway. “But I was also dealing with the sheer terror of the moment.”

The moment that Holloway describes is horrific. It was five years ago. Right in the middle of the afternoon, she was driving on an Overland Park residential street with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.  Out of nowhere, a drunk driver smashed into her car head on.

Janalea Hoffman leading a class on the Native American flute.

Her husband and daughter suffered minor injuries from the incident, but Holloway sustained a serious amount of damage to her spine, lung and other internal organs. She spent a week in the ICU at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and then recovered at home with a tremendous amount of physical and occupational therapy.

Despite feelings of anxiety and depression during her hospital stay, she remembers one moment of clarity, beauty and love: when Janalea Hoffman entered her hospital room.

“All of a sudden, Janalea’s at my door, and I realized that she was there to see me and to play for me,” says Holloway. “I immediately felt embraced.”
Janalea Hoffman is no stranger to meeting strangers in their hospital beds. She makes the rounds at Shawnee Mission Medical Center quite frequently to visit patients. She’s not a doctor, but has healing powers of her own. Her medicine is her music.

“When you’re ill, your body needs to slow down,” says Hoffman, a musician, author, and speaker and considered a pioneer in the field of music therapy. “And whether you like it or not, your body will respond and synchronize to a rhythm.”

Hoffman creates rhythmic music to calm patients and take them into a deeper state of consciousness.

“Music has a magical quality,” explains Hoffman, who founded Rhythmic Medicine after recognizing a public need for music therapy in the area. “It helps you to relax and go within, often before taking medicine.”

Holloway vows that Hoffman’s music and soothing manner evoked a feeling of peace that helped her throughout her time in the ICU.
“I just felt embraced by beauty, and it made me realize that this horrible time would be over and that I would get to the other side,” says Holloway, who admitted that the music made her cry a “sweet, lovely relief.”

June Caler knows how much relief is requested for patients at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. She’s been the chaplain for nearly 17 years.
“Janalea embraces everything that affects a patient with her music…emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually,” says Caler, who was instrumental in bringing Hoffman into the hospital after meeting her during a class to learn how to play the Native American flute at Rhythmic Medicine.

Caler and Hoffman collaborated to create a CD of music for patients to listen to prior to total knee or hip surgery. Patients repeatedly told them how the music calmed their fears prior to the procedures. Now, the music is often played in other areas of the hospital during treatments or examinations. 

Hoffman humbly admits that her music can help with anxiety, blood pressure, depression, weight loss, arthritis, headaches and a host of other ailments.  She describes her unique style of sound therapy as “musical acupuncture” and asks that patients imagine the tones coming into their bodies. Hoffman writes much of her music with slow rhythms at 50 beats per minute, a novel form in the practice of music therapy. She is certified in hypnosis, is educated on how to use guided imagery in sync with music for therapy purposes and has created a program specifically for hospice patients and their families. Hoffman works with a host of local musicians who play a variety of instruments to provide treatment for patients. A patient could be greeted with a guitar one day and a flute the next.

“Her music can reach patients where no one else can reach them,” says Caler. “It takes them away from what they are there for.”

Hoffman’s music is melodic, tranquil and utterly transcendent. With it, she hopes to make harsh hospital lights more dim, incessant beeping devices less abrasive and prodding needles less painful. Her music can help heal the soul, and perhaps the body, too.

“Janalea just changes the atmosphere in a room,” says Holloway, who has physically recovered from her awful experience and now wholeheartedly believes in music therapy. “She sets the tone and the right environment for healing to occur.” 

For more information about Rhythmic Medicine, call (913) 851-5100 or visit rhythmicmedicine.com.