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Music therapist Nicole Steele soothes with sounds

Music is often the best medicine, and no one knows that better than Nicole Steele’s patients.

Two days after Luke received a double lung transplant, Nicole peeked into his room in the CICU and saw how much he was struggling. She brought in a harpist to play for Luke, and Luke’s family and the hospital staff were amazed as they saw the music have an immediate physical effect. Luke’s heart rate and blood pressure decreased, and his agitation lessened. He stopped fighting the ventilator and began to relax.

That was eight years ago, and through numerous hospitalizations and treatments, Nicole, a music therapist who works in the Child Life Department at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, has brought music along on Luke’s medical journey. Music—and Nicole—help Luke get through tough times and celebrate good times.

Nicole has a knack for knowing just what Luke needs. She knows when he needs to hear soft, relaxing music, and when making an exuberant music video is the right option. She even learns songs from Luke’s favorite new Broadway musicals to help ease the pain and bring a smile to his face.

“I can honestly say I don’t know how Luke would have gotten through all his hospitalizations without Nicole,” says one of her coworkers in the Child Life Department.

Nicole’s creative therapeutic techniques, whether she is playing music, discussing goals, or just holding his hand, help Luke go from feeling like he can’t carry on to feeling peace and hope about navigating his overwhelming medical issues.

In the more than 10 years since Nicole joined the hospital, she has worked with many patients like Luke, and for each child, she offers unique and compassionate care.

Nicole combines technology and musical instruments to communicate with kids and mellow their moods, making the difficult reality of living with illnesses easier to bear for both patients and their families. Nicole is committed to using music as a healing medium, and the patients she has cared for can attest to the difference she has made in their lives. For many children, there is no medical fix, but Nicole believes in the endless capacity of music to bring joy and healing.

An avid Pittsburgh sports fan (Go Steelers!), Nicole prefers to stay out of the limelight. You won’t ever find her showing off—instead, she’s always looking for ways to create meaningful experiences for her patients. That might mean helping them shine through the joy of performance, relax to her hand-picked guitar tunes, or simply breathe easier knowing that someone who cares deeply about them is by their side.

Child Life Specialists help normalize the hospital experience and bring joy and comfort to hospitalized kids and their families. Many of the funds raised by CMN Hospitals are used to fund Child Life programs and help make up the gap between what government and insurance pay for and the actual cost of caring for kids in our member hospitals.