FORT MYERS, Fla. - As his fingers float across the keys, smiles widen and jaws drop in HealthPark Medical Center's atrium.
Fort Myers resident Noah Waddell is just 12, but his talent for playing piano reaches far beyond his age, and one he shares with the hospital's doctors, patients and visitors on Fridays as part of the Arts in Healthcare program.
His parents, Barry, a real estate broker, and Anita, a former teacher, were equally as surprised at their son's talent as most people who walk by and do a double take when they see the boy at the piano.
He gets so into the music at times that his body lifts from the bench as he reaches a crescendo.
Noah said he loves playing at the hospital, easing the heartbreak and stress of sometimes long, overwhelming days for patients and staff. They'll pull up a chair and let concertos by Bach and Mozart (also the names of Noah's dogs) take them away.
"Some people stop and say thank you," he said.
The Society for the Arts in Healthcare said music therapy at hospitals promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Lee Memorial Health System started its program in 1997, and it now includes close to 60 artists and musicians that perform at each hospital campus.
Doug MacGregor, Arts in Healthcare coordinator for Lee Memorial Health System, said music is a big part of the program.
"They're (the atrium pianists) playing from memory and they can't see around them, but I tell them to play as if someone needed them right then and there," he said.
MacGregor said Noah brought some comfort to the parents of an 11-year-old boy who wasn't expected to live much longer. "His parents were overwhelmed with grief ... and the mother came out to the atrium and saw Noah playing. She saw he was about the same age as her son and she was overcome with relief. Noah represented something that was special at the moment. It gave her comfort."
On a recent Friday, he played some Debussy and Chopin, earning applause and hoots of appreciation from across the atrium's four floors.
Barry Waddell said Noah's weekly sessions began after visiting a friend at the hospital. The unoccupied piano caught Noah's eye and he wanted to play. A sign stated that anyone was welcome to, but they would need to sign up at the visitors' desk first.
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