Ryver Stiles spent the first 297 days of his life at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Born May 16, 2016 at just 23 weeks, he weighed 1 pound, 5 ounces.
“He looked like a salamander. His skin was translucent. His ears were fused to his head. It was like, is this human? It’s so hard to know that’s your child,” said Ryver’s father Tyson Stiles.
Stiles spent hours in the NICU nearly every day as Ryver’s life teetered on the brink for months. He says music helped him connect with the tiny boy whom he barely got to hold. Stiles is a musician. He played guitar daily alongside his son’s incubator. An added treat were the days a music therapist from University Hospitals (UH) Connor Integrative Health Network would roll an instrument cart into the room and play along with Stiles.
“Having music therapy in Ryver’s room was a huge part of his turning point,” said Stiles.
Full of anxiety and fear, music helped Stiles, too. As an outlet during those dark times, he wrote original songs for Ryver focusing on love and hope.
“I know hearing that music, hearing his dad’s voice - that helped him. Also his mom, Melissa, is an incredible artist. She would paint these beautiful paintings at his bedside. I have no doubt the music and art therapy helped him hang on,” he said.
Stiles had a job which let him “work from home” during that time. Home had become UH. He spent hours in the atrium with his laptop and cell phone, including Christmas time 2016.
This Christmas, Stiles shared a piece of himself with an audience in that atrium. The Healing Harmony program from UH Connor Integrative Health Network organizes musician volunteers to perform at UH Cleveland Medical Center. It aims to reduce anxiety and promote healing through music. Patients and visitors benefit from a soothing environment and volunteers receive joy from sharing their talent with others.
On Friday Dec. 20, Stiles performed his original songs and others on guitar in the atrium, the very place he used to sit and wonder about his son’s fate.
“Steps away from this atrium, Tyson wrote songs for Ryver in the NICU. Hearing Tyson sing these same songs for the Healing Harmony Music Friday Concert Series has really brought their story full circle,” said Jason Meyers, Program Coordinator with Connor. You can’t help but tear up and find inspiration through their journey. Music is their connection, and their connection is a testament to the healing power of music.”
“The people here don’t want to be here. They’re a father or son or cousin or husband or wife of someone who is very sick. It’s nice to get to play for them and give them that distraction, that comfort, something else to focus on for just a little bit,” said Stiles. “And the staff. I could never thank them enough for everything they did for Ryver. I hope I can bring them a little joy, too.”
Three-and-a-half years later Ryver is doing well. He was discharged from UH Rainbow in March of 2017. Doctors removed his tracheostomy tube this past summer. He still has a gastrostomy tube which delivers nutrients to his stomach, but thanks to feeding therapy, he’s on his way to eating independently. His dad says his vocabulary has tripled over the past three months.
Music still roots their relationship.
“Ryver calls the songs I wrote for him Dada songs. I recorded them into an album and it’s his favorite thing to listen to. In the car he’s always asking for Dada songs. To be honest, now I’m kind of sick of them,” he said laughing.
If you’re a musician and you want to volunteer with Connor’s Healing Harmony program you can e-mail Jason Meyers at Jason.Meyers@UHhospitals.org.