CHLA’s Music Therapy Program Helps Family Cope With Tragedy
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LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The Camacho family traveled to Los Angeles from Guam for what they hoped would be a medical miracle.
Steven Jr., 11, had a rare blood cancer and was depending on a bone marrow transplant from his 16-year-old sister, Alyssa, who tested as a perfect match.
“I was like, ‘Yes, I’m gonna save my brother’s life and I’m gonna be his hero,” Alyssa said.
But the family’s effort to save one child with the bone marrow of another fell apart when doctors at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles made a heart-breaking discovery — during Alyssa’s final screening before the transplant, doctors found she had the same illness.
Just over a month after Alyssa’s diagnosis, Steven Jr. lost his battle with cancer.
“I told him were were supposed to fight this together, but since he left, I promised that I would fight whatever comes my way, just for him,” Alyssa said.
With her parents and four remaining siblings at her side, Alyssa underwent her own bone marrow transplant in March.
At that time, CHLA music therapist Stacie Aamon Yeldell started paying her regular visits.
“One of the beautiful things about music is that it does a lot of the work for you,” Stacie said.
Music therapy can be ordered for any patient staying at Children’s Hospital LA. In addition to emotional healing, physicians say it can help lower blood pressure, reduce pain and speed recovery.
Stacie started working with the Camacho family on writing their own songs, “to be able to express, to cope and to grieve.”
Their first song was “Brave Bird,” about the brother Alyssa lost.
“I just wanted to write a song about him because I miss him so much,” she said.
The most cathartic part of the song comes when Steven Jr. makes an appearance via a recording he made just before his death.
It brings the family to tears.
“It all has to do with what we have just gone through in the matter of less than a year,” Alyssa’s mother, Leslie, said.
Stacie works with the family about twice a week.
“I see the light bulb, I can literally see the light bulb!” Stacie said as the family brainstormed a new song.
“Let’s call this one ‘The Good Lord,'” Alyssa’s older brother said, while strumming the guitar.
Alyssa’s cancer is in remission and the Camacho family is planning to return home in less than two months. It’s inspired a new song all about gratitude.
“I’ve been something so hard and I got through it,” Alyssa said.
Less than a year ago, the Camacho’s doubted whether they’d ever again experience job. But making music with Stacie has changed all that.
“I just love her,” Alyssa said of her music therapist.
“It brings tears to my eyes knowing that they’re getting together to make a song,” Leslie said. “It’s beautiful.”
Alyssa’s father, Steven Sr., says he’s proud of the music his children have created. He credits Alyssa’s promise to Steven Jr. as the reason she pulled through.
“She did it for her brother. And now look where we’re at, we’re almost done. Thank God,” the father said.
Alyssa and her family say they’ll continue making music when they go back home to Guam.
Music therapy at CHLA is offered through The Mark Taper and Johnny Mercer Artists Program. Parents and families can ask their child’s nurse to make a referral for music therapy.
You can learn more about CHLA’s Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation offerings here.
Alyssa is under the care of Dr. Neena Kapoor, director of CHLA’s Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Unit. For more about Dr. Kappor visit her CHLA bio.
* Story produced by Gerri Shaftel Constant, CBS2/KCAL9 Medical Producer.