WCH neonatal nurseries benefit from harp performances

Musician Ilona Weir treats tiny babies, their doting parents, and staff in the neonatal nurseries to harp performances every week.

Ilona’s performances are proudly funded through the WCH Foundation’s Arts in Health program. Arts in Health worked with the neonatal growth and development team at the Hospital to establish the Music for Wellness sessions.

While the magical music is a joy to listen to, research shows the tunes also have positive health impacts on pre-term babies.

“The research shows the most appropriate tunes for babies are very simple, repetitive, calm tunes,” Ilona, who has been playing the harp for 20 years, said.

“If you played fast music it would be overwhelming, the music is designed to keep them very calm.”

Ilona playing the harp in neonatal nurseries.

Ilona Weir playing the harp in the neonatal nurseries at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The benefits for babies include:

  • Soothes, relaxes and aids in stress relief.
  • Stabilises babies’ heart rate and breathing patterns, to improve weight gain and sleep quality.
  • Promotes babies’ brain structure, which could help them learn to talk.
  • Activates part of the baby’s brain involved in cognitive processing and emotions.

In November 2020, new parents Mandy Lewis and Stuart Sampson, welcomed twin daughters Sage and Kora born at 28 weeks. The neonatal nurseries cared for the twins and whilst there they heard Ilona play. They told their story to The Advertiser ahead of World Prematurity Day.

“It was really special to share that with the babies,” Mandy told The Advertiser.

“They were a little bit cranky to begin with, but as she (Ilona) started playing they went to sleep, so I think the beautiful music really soothed them, really relaxed them.”

Babies and their parents in the neonatal nurseries listening to the harp.

Harpist Ilona Weir plays lullabies for Mandy Lewis and Stuart Sampson and their daughters Sage and Kora at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Photo courtesy: Naomi Jellicoe / Newspix.

Positive feedback

Ilona said the harp tunes don’t just create a soothing environment for families but are also beneficial for staff.

“It’s also for the staff so I mix it up by playing some slowed down pop tunes, tunes that people are familiar with,” Ilona said.

“I’ve received positive feedback from families and staff. They come up and say to me ‘thank you’, ‘the music is beautiful’, and ‘it’s very calming’. I can really see the benefits of harp music in the neonatal nurseries.”

A neighbourly gift

From what started as a ‘hello’ and wave across the fence grew into a much-loved friendship for the Roberts family and their long-time neighbour the late Hazel Glencross. Hazel died in late-2019 and left a bequest to the Sam Roberts Family Fund in memory of the boy she called ‘dear little Sam’.

Many in the WCH Foundation community will know of the Roberts family. Marty and Michelle Roberts’ youngest son Sam passed away in 2005 at the age of four after a courageous battle with Niemann-Pick Disease Type C, a rare neurological disease for which there is currently no known cure.  They established The Sam Roberts Family Fund soon after leading the charge on raising funds in Sam’s memory.

“The care we received from the Paediatric Palliative Care Service at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital was much needed and made a huge difference to how we enjoyed the limited time we had with Sam.” Marty said.

This was the inspiration behind setting up Cycle 4 Sam – a biennial bike riding event which has so far raised over $750,000 for the WCH Foundation. The event helps other families supported by the Paediatric Palliative Care Service. Due to COVID-19, the Roberts family were unable to undertake their ride last year, so they were deeply appreciative to learn that Sam’s fund was to receive a special gift from Hazel.

“Hazel was a lovely lady who had long supported our efforts to raise money in Sam’s memory,” Marty said. “To learn that she has included a gift in her Will for Sam’s Fund is very special indeed.”

The late Hazel Glencross, who left a bequest for the Roberts Family Fund, pictured with Marty Roberts and his daughter Lucy Roberts.

The late Hazel Glencross (centre), pictured with Marty Roberts (right) and his daughter Lucy Roberts (left).

Hazel’s memory

During her lifetime, Hazel was a proud member of the Women’s Auxiliary Australia Air Force (WAAF) at the end of World War II. She travelled extensively in Europe and the UK, as well as working in the diplomatic corp in Asia.  She moved to Darwin around 25 years ago to join her son, Andrew, and his family who had relocated there.

“Hazel was our next-door neighbour when I was a young boy, and growing up she always remembered our birthdays,” Marty recalled. “Over the years she became a much-loved family friend and we stayed in touch, even after she moved to Darwin.”

Marty’s mum Margaret said, “Hazel often spoke about Sam because she called in on one of her Adelaide visits when I was looking after him. She called him ‘dear little Sam’. She was a very dear friend to us all and it’s such a lovely thing that she has done in leaving a bequest.”

Left image: The late Hazel Glencross (left), pictured with Margaret Roberts. Right image: Sam Roberts.

Leaving a bequest

You can dedicate a gift in your Will to the WCH Foundation in honour of someone you have loved and lost as a wonderful way of ensuring their memory lives on.

“Hazel had several conversations with staff here at the WCH Foundation when preparing her Will. She was clearly very passionate about ensuring that she could leave a gift in Sam’s memory.  She once said, ‘it won’t be a sheep station, but I’ll leave what I can’. We are so pleased to now be able to honour her wishes,” Fern Cargill, WCH Foundation Bequests and Research Manager said.

For a confidential discussion about leaving a Will gift, or to request wording for your solicitor, click here or contact Fern Cargill, Bequests and Research Manager, on (08) 8464 7900.

The Cycle 4 Sam will return in 2021 with preparations currently underway – stay up to date with the latest news here.