WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Lizzie Digiovanni was just a teenager when she was diagnosed with a respiratory illness.

After being diagnosed, she became a pediatric patient at St. Jude.

“In there, I met a child life specialist, and I loved when he talked to me. He talked to me like I was a person and not my diagnosis,” Digiovanni said. “I remember his name, I remember all the activities we did together … I had somebody talk to me like I was a human throughout my whole medical process. I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”

Digiovanni is now a music therapist at St. Jude. She works with kids of all ages, predominantly ones who have a blood disorder or blood cancer.

“My job as a music therapist is to use music to achieve nonmusical goals,” said Digiovanni.

She says she uses music as well to normalize a stay in the hospital.

“We use that [music] as a gateway point with our children or patients here to bring joy into some really dark moments and to also foster a lot of growth and development,” Digiovanni said.

Digiovanni shares an experience she had with a patient in which music helped the patient’s growth and development.

I have a teenage patient who I’m working with and she has been here as long as I’ve been here. So, it’s been a really long time. We spend a lot of time together. And in that, I was working with her physical therapist and her occupational therapist and she is relearning how to walk right now. So, as that was happening, I came into the room for a cotraining opportunity. She looked at me and she says, ‘Can we do “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely we can do that!’ And so here she is, she has her parallel bars that she’s standing between, she has her therapist behind her and in front of her to make sure that she stays stable, and I watched her first steps happen in time with music. It was just so cool to see that music motivated that movement for her,”

Lizzie Digiovanni, Music Therapist at St. Jude

Digiovanni says that the patient she spoke of is now doing great.

The music therapist does more than just listen to music with patients; she also creates it.

Digiovanni says, “Between the hours [of] 10 and 4:30, I am making music and making a racket … it’s noisy, it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, it’s great.”

Digiovanni grew up taking piano and French horn lessons, and her training has allowed her to master 10 instruments. She says one of the things she really enjoys at St. Jude is ukulele instruction.

“We use ukuleles to teach kids leisure skills, or a hobby for them to take home, and so often times kids are not expecting to come home with a different ability,” said Digiovanni. “So, because of that, when they are inpatient or when they do have appointments on campus, we can use that to empower them, to have them develop new skills and to feel extra confident coming out of it.”

Along with ukuleles, St. Jude has many other instruments for music therapy, including drums, guitars, percussion instruments and pianos. Patients can also sing and hum with their music therapists.

Digiovanni says St. Jude goes above and beyond.

“I am so honored to be working with care providers who actually take the time to talk with patients and their families and to understand their trials and their tribulations, and they’re also there to just celebrate those moments and those victories and those milestones,” Digiovanni said.

Digiovanni says she is thrilled that St. Jude recognizes music therapy as a pivotal and influential part of their patients’ journeys.

“We [St. Jude] really are a leading entity in health care that is supporting that [music therapy], so I really appreciate that they recognize us and the work that we do,” said Digiovanni.

Digiovanni is a part of the St. Jude LIFE Study, an unprecedented research study that brings long-term childhood cancer survivors back to St. Jude for regular health screenings throughout their adult lives.