Toddler undergoes chemo; hospital now using musical therapy

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco offers a unique way to help patients and their families. The staff is using music therapy with tangible results.

The parents of a 23-month-old cancer patient shared their story with KTVU. They say the music therapy is making a difference in their daughter's survival.
The program is called the Heartbeat Project. Music is created in a recording studio inside UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.

It's a collaborative effort between the patient's parents and the music therapist.

The song they created starts with the sound of baby Kaia De La Cruz Williams's heartbeat.
"It's kind of routine now in her room. We actually play the recording for her," says Alejandro De La Cruz, Kaia's father,

"Kaia's recognized that that's her heartbeat, so she’s literally tapping on her heart."

Her song is called “Tallawah”, which means small but mighty in Jamaican— a nod to her heritage.

The music recording is infused with her laughter, her baby talk and the sound of the guitar; a collection of precious moments
"There's this conversation between the guitar and Kaia. It's a really beautiful moment in the song," says Matthew Logan, the music therapist who's working with the family.

It's a way for Kaia to tell her own story of battling cancer.

"There's so many indicators to tell me anything is possible that we've gotten this far at this point," says De La Cruz.
Kaia is from Oakland.  She was diagnosed nine months ago with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.

Her parents say the prognosis was grim. The toddler has undergone chemotherapy and three bone marrow transplants.

"There's no roadmap for the way Kaia has lived with her illness. She's beyond what the literature has to say," says Keshia Williams, Kaia's mother.

One of Kaia's doctors say music is medicine.
"It's been proven that it can lower the blood pressure in kids. It can lower their heart rate in stressful situations," says Dr. Rob Goldsby, an oncologist with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.

The couple says the music is a mirror of the family's excruciating journey, with the high and low notes.
"The rage that…how cans this be? For this child we had so many dreams for," says Williams.
Kaia's parents say the music allows them to drown in the dark moments, yet be buoyed by the joyous ones.

The couple says they find peace in the complexity of their experience.

"It's the grief, the unfettered joy, it's the clarity, it's the overwhelming and what it means to ride all of those waves," says Williams.
Kaia's parents say the song is a tribute to their daughter.

They say the cancer should not define her. The family's story is one of resiliency and hope.