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CHOP front-line heroes deliver stirring virtual rendition of national anthem

The Eagles reached out to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia 11 days ago looking for front-line heroes to sing a virtual version of the national anthem for today's home opener against the Los Angeles Rams.

There were just two questions:

1. Were there staff members who could produce a video in time for the game?

2. More importantly, was there anyone on the staff who could sing?

Elaine Gallagher, a senior vice president at CHOP, knew who to contact – Patrick Lipawen, a music therapist at CHOP. Lipawen has worked at CHOP on a full-time basis since 1999 and was one of the original members of the CHOP choir and instrumental group formed for special events like the holiday concert that packs the atrium each year with patients and employees alike.

Lipawen immediately thought of how to tackle the challenge of what essentially was a music video. The CHOP choir and instrumental group typically has around 60 members, but Lipawen knew the logistics of finding time that worked for everyone's schedule was not going to work. He decided to gather the music therapy team at CHOP for this special project.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to alter our daily routines in some form or fashion. Many of us now work from home. Several of us now help teach our kids from home. There are plenty of us who are doing both.

CHOP is the nation's first hospital devoted exclusively to children's care and is always on the shortlist of the premier children's hospitals in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop patients from needing care and families looking for support.

"Our patients and families don't always get to go home. They're here whether there's a pandemic or not," said music therapist Lydia Westle, who has worked at CHOP for four years. "It's really an honor for us to support them."

Lipawen explained how a music therapist at CHOP works on about 25 cases in a typical week. Music is critical because studies have shown it can reduce anxiety, which triggers other behavioral disorders. Physically, patients can experience improved breathing, increased circulation, and muscle relaxation from music therapy. One of Lipawen's favorite success stories was helping a patient cope with cystic fibrosis, a disease typically found in children that creates respiratory infections. Lipawen recorded the patient singing. The patient had to pause frequently because of the disease, but when Lipawen edited the soundtrack, it was a beautiful song. The patient beamed with pride and played it for everyone to hear.

The term "front-line worker" has become part of our daily vernacular during the pandemic, but doctors and nurses come to mind when one hears the phrase. There are so many other unsung heroes who are just as critical to hospital care.

The CHOP music therapy team of Amy Troyano, Karinne' Andonian, Lipawen, Pawel Machura, Jacqueline Macri, Michael Mahoney, Jenn Manno, Eric Newby, Westle, and Juan Zambonin sprang into action. Lipawen focused on coordinating the project, so he produced the audio and allowed for the others' singing talent to shine. Newby handled the video production and Machura provided additional support behind the scenes. After six hours of rehearsal over three days, the national anthem video was filmed on Wednesday and delivered to the Eagles late on Thursday evening.

"I really felt like it brought our whole team together," said Manno, who had an old-school kelly green-era logo patch on the sleeve of her T-shirt. "We all work on different units and we're always so scattered around the hospital. This was something like, 'OK, we got to jump in, and we got to pull it together.' We got to make it work and we did."

Troyano, who also serves as the creative arts therapy manager, loved how the video featured each singer individually while showcasing how the collective talent produced a beautiful harmony that could not be replicated by a solo performance. It's no different than a football team.

"The word joy comes to mind. It was this unfettered joy," Troyano said. "Considering everything that's happening in our world and here at the hospital, it was such a positive, positive experience. This team has been incredibly resilient through these past few months."

It was certainly not lost on the group that this was for the Eagles' home opener. Westle, born into a huge family full of die-hard Eagles fans, immediately offered to have jerseys for everyone to wear in the video. They didn't sport the jerseys, but you will notice that they were masked, a symbol of the time. Macri joked that it was the first masked acapella group in history.

"It's just amazing how the team came together and focused on the goal. Everybody shared their unique strengths and really came together, and that's what you hear in the harmony," Troyano said.

"It really motivated us. We took a lot of pride in representing the hospital and wanting to represent the Eagles," Westle said. "Given all of the challenges this year, it just felt really rejuvenating. I think it was like self-care for us as a team."

And the music therapy team can invest that newfound energy into their patients on the front line because, pandemic or not, there are always more who in need of the best service and care.

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