Patient Murline Carter-Cardoza was moved to tears when a group of BWHers surprised her at her bedside in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center to sing Christmas carols on Dec. 25. Earlier that day, Carter-Cardoza felt down about not being able to attend church and spend time with her family and friends for the holidays.
“It didn’t feel like Christmas until the carolers arrived,” said the Mattapan resident. “It was the most beautiful gift I could have asked for.”
Three years ago, senior BWH cardiologist Thomas Michel, MD, PhD, and a group of his residents formed a musical ensemble, the Cardiotonics. Each Christmas Day since, the continually growing group has gathered to serenade patients, families and staff throughout Shapiro and the Tower with holiday favorites, including “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells” and Hanukkah songs by patient request.
Michel, an amateur accordion player who has been at the Brigham for 32 years, said he started this tradition as a way to lift the spirits of patients and their families on a day that is meant to be celebrated.
“The music of the season is deeply moving, and, as care providers, we recognize it can be a very tough time to be in the hospital,” Michel said. “It’s meaningful for us to be able to give back to our patients in this way and help to make a difficult situation a little more pleasant.”
Since the Cardiotonics formed, nurses, patient care assistants, Cardiology faculty, chaplains and others have volunteered to join the group on Christmas. Michel was overjoyed to see more than 20 BWHers and some of their family members participate this year. Regardless of prior singing or musical experience, all of the volunteers sang for every patient they met.
Frederick Tsai, MD, PhD, a second-year resident in the Department of Medicine, helped to organize this year’s event.
“This annual tradition exemplifies the culture at the Brigham of collegiality, dedication to patient care and commitment to each other’s well-being,” Tsai said. “When we walked into a hospital pod or a patient’s room, you could see people’s excitement.”
Tsai’s favorite experience with the Cardiotonics this year was meeting Carter-Cardoza and her family.
“Moments like this make me feel incredibly humbled to be able to care for patients, not just through medicine, but also by doing something as simple and human as being there with them in the hospital and sharing a holiday song,” Tsai said. “I feel like we are providing another aspect of patient care by supporting them emotionally and spiritually.”
BWH patient Paul Cahill, of Abington, also enjoyed a visit from the carolers and deeply appreciated the event.
“It was a great surprise to have the carolers come by my room on Christmas,” Cahill said. “I was thrilled that my wife, Kathy, along with my family, including my eight grandchildren, were there to join in and sing along. It’s nice that the hospital does this each year to make patients feel at home as much as they can.”
Ashley Clements, a Spiritual Care Services chaplain resident who joined the Cardiotonics this year, came into work early to participate. She hopes the tradition inspires BWHers to perform other acts of kindness in the future.
Former Cardiotonics caroler and Cardiology fellow Brittany Weber, MD, PhD, said singing to patients on Christmas Day was the highlight of her residency last year.
“This holiday tradition keeps this spirit alive,” Weber said. “It’s a privilege to be able to spread the joy of the holidays for our patients who had to be in the hospital and to see the smiles, laughter and tears. The joy and holiday spirit that the Cardiotonics ensemble brings is simply contagious.”
Bruce Koplan, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist, brought his daughter, niece and nephew to the hospital on Christmas so that they could experience the joy of giving back to others: “I wanted them to have an appreciation for the true meaning of the holidays. I’m glad the group could provide some happiness to the patients.”