Honouring the legacy

SLH - Uncle Tan

Honouring the legacy

Recognising each patient’s value and life story provides peace, comfort and purpose in the time that remains.

A heartbeat of a loved one embedded in a song can be a precious and tangible memory that families can hold on to after their passing. For Ceron, daughter of the late Mr Tan Ann Seng, listening to her dad’s heartbeat in sync with the rhythm of his favourite song “always brings back fond memories and closeness which had never left, offering comfort and reassurance”.

Mr Tan, affectionately known as Uncle Tan, was St Luke’s Hospital’s (SLH) patient-turned-volunteer-and-staff who found a new lease of life and a strong network of friends when he was admitted to SLH for stroke rehabilitation. Realising his improvement could be a motivation for others, he started volunteering as a patient-motivator and later joined SLH as a Service Ambassador. A friendly face who greeted all who passed through the hospital lobby, he chatted with patients and their families, helping them to see possibilities despite health challenges. 

After a cancer relapse last year, Mr Tan was warded in the High Dependency Unit of an acute hospital. His last wish was to be transferred back to SLH, but his deteriorating condition made it impossible. After a family discussion, he became the first patient in SLH’s Project Heartbeat, where a music therapist recorded his heartbeat over a 12-hour period before his passing. In a poignant tribute to his life, his heartbeat was masterfully integrated into his most beloved song, “Amazing Grace”. Filled with gratitude, Ceron shared, “This unique piece of music is a precious gift that can even be shared with the next generation of my family. It has strengthened me during the grieving process and continues to remind me of my dad’s perseverance and resilience.”

For patients at the end of life, reflecting on their life’s legacy can help them find peace and closure, as well as comfort and purpose during their final days. Drawing upon the late pioneer in near-death studies, Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief™ model, paired with SLH’s music therapy model for palliative care, an assessment is conducted to determine patients’ suitability for Project Heartbeat.

The music therapy team approaches each patient with care and is respectful of their needs and goals for therapy interventions. Music therapists will integrate patients’ heartbeats, recorded with a digital stethoscope, into their song of choice. “The resulting piece beautifully encapsulates the essence of each patient and will forever serve as a tribute to their legacy,” said Dr Tan Xue Li, SLH’s Principal Music Therapist.

To allow more palliative patients to benefit from music therapy interventions and in memory of the late Mr Tan, SLH launched Project Heartbeat, an innovative music therapy legacy project, at its “Celebrating Silver: Circle of Life” charity dinner on 15 September 2023. The annual fundraising event aimed to raise public awareness and underscore the importance of holistic palliative care and support in maintaining the quality of life for patients at the end of life. With a rapidly ageing population, the demand for palliative care is expected to surge in the years ahead.

Project Heartbeat is one of the hospital’s many initiatives that are part of its larger commitment to care compassionately for the ‘whole person’, including the patient’s clinical, social, and emotional needs. SLH Chief Executive Officer Associate Professor Tan Boon Yeow added, “Palliative care often goes beyond providing medical support. Through our efforts, we hope to destigmatise death and dying and spread the message that death can be a form of celebration in memory of the person’s impact on the lives of many.”

Over the years, SLH has been dedicated to enriching lives in the community through the expansion of its core services to provide continuity of care and continues to deepen its specialised capabilities in dementia, rehabilitation, wound care, and palliative care.

Photo: St Luke’s Hospital

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