`Karaoke Therapy' Helps Patients Music and Laughter Ease Children's Pain, Stress

Article excerpt

Karen Mary Becker plugged in her karaoke machine, grabbed the microphone and belted out pop songs, just as she's done on countless other singing engagements. But this time, the curtain went up on a much different scene.

Instead of pretzels and beer, intravenous bags and oxygen tanks sustained the crowd. Barstools were out, and gurneys and wheelchairs in. And most in the crowd snuggled in seafoam-green jammies decorated in a Sylvester the Cat print.

Becker was practicing her karaoke therapy at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis. About once a month, she leaves her family's pumpkin farm in western St. Charles County to put on a show at an area hospital. For a couple of hours, she croons while she cradles the sick. She coaxes the not-so-sick patients to don feather boas and cowboy hats to join her in singing hits by such varied performers as Barney and Bonnie Raitt.

Becker's energy and enthusiasm are so infectious that a few minutes into the program children, parents and staff are raising the rafters. Before last week's show would end, a seminarian would belt out "La Bamba," and a crew of plumbers would clap and sway in the hall on the way to a repair job.

Becker's aim is to give the children and their parents a break from the pain, boredom and stress of being in the hospital.

"Did you see their smiles?" she asked breathlessly between numbers.

The manager of the child life department at the hospital, Rebecca Charlton, said, "I don't think it's an exaggeration to call it therapy."

On Heather McGuirk's third day in the hospital for asthma, she wasn't sure she wanted any part of karaoke therapy.

"I was scared at first," said the 14-year-old from Fenton. But before long, she was padding up to the front in her shiny, purple slippers with the white bows. …