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Grandfather Plays Harp To Help Preemies Heal

By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4)- At Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) in Denver, premature babies are finding music can be medicine. It is thanks to a doting grandfather who is performing mini concerts to calm the tiny babies who entered the world too early.

In her room in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), baby Brianna hears a symphony of bells and beeps. Those are the sounds of the machines in the NICU checking her breathing and body temperature.

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But for two weeks now, music has accompanied the monitors. It's the sound of soothing strings meant to heal.

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James Excell (credit: CBS)

"It's called prescriptive music," said James Excell, a certified music-thanatologist.

They practice harp music as medicine.

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"Originally, at the bedside of the dying," explained Excell.

But here, Excell sings lullabies of life. Brianna and Savannah are his granddaughters, twins born in May 12 weeks early.

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"It's been a challenging four months," said Megan Wright, daughter of Excell and mother of the twins.

Both baby girls had serious complications and surgeries. Brianna needed a tracheotomy.

James Excell (credit: CBS)

"Sometimes I can calm the entire room," said Excell.

He plays 15-minute sessions.

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"The heart rate can calm really sometimes 40 or 50 points," Excell explained.

He thinks it helped Savannah.

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"She was discharged on Sunday, apparently well ahead of schedule," he said.

"I think Grandpa and his harp made a huge impact," added Wright. "I think it triggers something in the body to create your own natural healing."

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Excell sees his music as support for the incredible medical staff in the NICU. It strikes a chord with the tiny babies born too early and working hard to catch up.

When word got around about Excell and his harp, other parents signed up to have him sing and play for their preemies. He will be leaving soon to go back to work in Oregon where both Excell and his wife, Elizabeth Markell, practice music-thanatology.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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