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Billings Symphony gives the gift of music to a long-term pediatric patient

Michael Blankenship is learning to play his violin
Posted at 10:55 PM, Aug 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-14 16:16:49-04

BILLINGS — The Billings Symphony Orchestra is teaming up with the music therapy program at St. Vincent Healthcare to give a violin to a 13-year-old, long-term patient at the hospital.

“I feel happy," 13-year-old Michael Blankenship said Tuesday after receiving the violin. "The great thing about music is that you can play it anytime, anywhere. And you can learn to play different songs.”

Michael has fetal alcohol syndrome, among other conditions, and uses a ventilator to help him breathe. He's been in and out of the hospital for most of his life.

The Billings Symphony was able to give him a gift that had the power to transport him outside the four walls of his hospital room.

Ali Schultzlevesque met Michael over the eight times shes been through St. V's with the symphony's community outreach program, Healing Harmonies.

"We go room to room," Schultzlevesque, a violinist with the symphony, said. "We play for patients and their families who are interested in symphonic music. And Michael has been somebody we have seen every time that we’ve been here.

After a few visits, Michael was hooked.

"He started expressing an interest in playing the violin," Schultzlevesque said. "He eventually talked me into letting him play my violin. Then we said we’re just going to try and get you your own violin.”

Michael’s violin is special. It’s a little smaller than a regular violin so he can grip it easier.

Also it’s a dazzling shade of blue, with a thick finish so the instrument can be easily sanitized.

The new violin was music to Michael's ears.

"I hope that this gives him something to do to keep his mind alive and active and thinking outside of these walls," Schultzlevesque said. "In that, it will be something that he can take with him when he in fact lives outside of these walls again."

And Michael could be living outside the hospital tomorrow, but he needs a little help.

Michael's adoptive mother, Shirley Lee, cares for five other foster children with special needs.

Shirley is looking for the help of a registered nurse, or a licensed practical nurse to change and clean Michael’s ventilator.

“He just needs nursing care, and I can’t do it by myself with the other kids," Lee said. "So I just need more help. Michael might even be able to go back to school if he’s got a full time nurse.”

For now, Michael has found a new passion that sparks joy with music. And soon enough the halls of St Vincent's will be alive with the sound of a bright blue violin.

If you, or someone you know could help provide nursing care for Michael, give Amber Pisk, St. V's pediatric nurse manager a call at 406-237-7000.