Riley dialysis patients relax with bedside piano lessons

(WTHR Photo/Rich Nye)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Jae'La Crider's fingers climb up and down the scale to begin her weekly bedside piano lesson at the dialysis clinic at Riley Hospital for Children.

"I want to learn like a child's lullaby because that seems like more calming,” said Crider after a recent lesson. “I like things that are calming, not too hyped up all the time."

On Monday mornings, Bethany Daugherty from Vibe Music Academy teaches beginner's piano while patients wait through their lengthy dialysis treatment.

"I think that it's amazing,” said Daugherty. “I'm really excited about it. I love this kind of program. This is the kind of music making that I really want to be doing."

“I'm learning that you cannot play fast as a beginner because you mess up,” said Crider. “If you try to go really fast, you hit the wrong key."

Crider’s kidneys don't produce any urine. The 18-year-old has needed dialysis for six years to remove waste and fluid from her blood.

"I'm just astounded by the way they react to the circumstances they're in,” said Daugherty. “I feel like I'm learning more than I'm teaching them."

The dialysis patients are hooked up to the machine for four hours three days a week, so playing an electronic keyboard machine on the hospital bed table is a great distraction.

"If all it gives them is a stress relief and something to get their mind off the fact that they're on dialysis, that's great,” said Beth Johnston, the Riley dialysis clinic nurse practitioner. “If they just spend the rest of their life enjoying piano music and tinkering with it, that's great too."

Johnston came up with the idea. She takes violin lessons from Daugherty and thought piano lessons could be a constructive activity for the dialysis patients during treatments.

The program began last month with four patients.

Johnston raised money through the Riley Children’s Foundation to provide keyboards for the children to take home for practice in addition to the keyboards at the hospital.

“It's a great stress reliever and it makes you forget you’re on the machine,” said Crider, who says she would otherwise spend most of the time on her phone or watching TV during treatments. “It's beautiful music that comes from it."

"I think it's definitely a huge highlight and I think it's meant a lot to the kids,” said Johnston. “Who knows? Bethany may be teaching the next Mozart."

Daugherty hopes her students will be ready to perform a Christmas recital.

All the of the patients hope to one day receive a kidney transplant and no longer need dialysis. Crider is waiting on some good lab reports to get her name on the transplant waiting list. She dreams of having a new kidney.

"But I don't know what I'm going to do with all that free time,” Crider says jokingly.

Maybe she could play the piano while not sitting in a hospital bed.