Grandfather plays harp to help premature babies heal at hospital

James Excell sees his music as support for the incredible medical staff in the NICU at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children

CBS Denver

DENVER -- At Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) in Colorado, premature babies are finding music can be medicine.

CBS Denver reports it's 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.

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

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

"Originally, at the bedside of the dying," he explained, as thanatology refers to end-of-life care.

But here, Excell sings lullabies of life. 

Brianna and Savannah are his granddaughters — twins who were born in May, 12 weeks early. Both baby girls had serious complications and surgeries. 

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

Excell plays 15-minute sessions. 

"Sometimes I can calm the entire room," he said. "The heart rate can calm, really, sometimes 40 or 50 points."

He thinks it helped Savannah.

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

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

Excell sees his music as support for the incredible medical staff in the NICU. It strikes a chord with the tiny babies whose bodies are  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 he and his wife, Elizabeth Markell, practice music-thanatology.