Healing power of music

It's a lesson that can only be learned through experience, and Dr. Deforia Lane brought hers to Augusta in hopes of helping local patients.


Lane, a certified music therapist in Cleveland, gave a presentation last week to administrators, faculty and volunteers at Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center, showing them how music can be used to treat pain, illness and mental disorders.

"I'm continuing to learn the gift of pain," Lane said, her voice choking with emotion. "It can deepen us like nothing else can. But the beauty of it is we're not meant to barrel through it and hold on to it."

In the mid-1970s, Lane worked with children with "severe mental disabilities." She witnessed their "magnificent response to music," which enabled them to express themselves and learn basic lessons.

Six years later, Lane was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy and treatments. But the cancer returned within a few months.

"I was devastated and needed someone to talk to," she said. "So I went to a support group the American Cancer Society had at the hospital."

Lane combined the inspiration from the support group with her earlier use of music therapy with children to overcome her own depression and then reach out to others in similar situations. She started volunteering at Ireland Cancer Center in Cleveland, where she played music for cancer patients during their treatments.

"In six months, I was hired," she said. "It was amazing the things that happened -- things that were nothing short of divine intervention."

On March 21, Dr. Lane showed videos and gave demonstrations of her music therapy to about 20 people at MCG Health Cancer Center. Using a Suzuki Omnichord -- an automated harplike instrument that can be played with one finger -- Lane showed how music can be used to slow rapid heart rates and shallow breathing, lift a depressed spirit and help an overwhelmed person focus.

"It may look like all fun and games," she said, "but there's a lot of research and data involved. So there are measurable results."

Lane said many patients going through chemotherapy run into trouble with needles because their veins collapse from the tension of their situation.

"So one of my goals is vein dilation through muscular relaxation and easing their mental anxiety," she said. "Patients respond to the music they like most. So I always ask what kind of music they like. Then I try to present that music live to them right then and there in a way that addresses their tension."

During her presentation, Lane used a volunteer from the audience to demonstrate her point by raising and lowering their pulse rate through rhythms on the harp. She also showed DVDs of her patients in Cleveland, one of whom suffered dementia and talked jibberish but spoke clearly in sentences with music. Another showed a stroke patient who could walk faster with music therapy.

"I was very impressed with it, and I didn't think I would be," said Nettie Engels, a patient adviser. "It's interesting that it changed my mind like that. The vignettes she showed really proved her point, and I appreciate the patients allowing her to film them."

Denise Parrish, a spokeswoman for MCG Hospital and Clinics, said Lane's presentation mirrors the Healing Arts program already in place at the cancer center. The program uses musicians such as harpist Nell Morris and dulcimer player Jim McGaw, in addition to visual artists, to work with patients undergoing treatment.