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Nurse mends with music

Valencia man soothes patients with serenades

Posted: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Margaret Genova smiles as she spends a moment with registered nurse Jared Axen at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia. (Jonathan Pobre/The Signal)

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Nurse Jared Axen enveloped patient Margaret Genova’s hand in both his own and began the pure, buttery vocals of “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Tilting her head back, his 96-year-old patient joined in, singing softly with eyes closed.

“She was a singer,” said Genova’s surprised daughter Carol Lodes, a smile on her face and one hand pressed against her chest. “But I haven’t heard her sing in years.”

“Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forever more,” the 26-year-old nurse sang with his patient, their voices the only sound in the room.

Genova has memory problems, Lodes said, explaining why her mother’s singing voice fell silent years ago. “When he starts singing, all the music comes back to her.”

For nearly four years, Axen — a classically trained singer turned nurse — has been sitting bedside with his patients at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, asking them to choose a song and then singing it to them.

Axen, who grew up in Valencia, was home-schooled before completing two associate degrees in music and nursing at College of the Canyons. He was classically trained by a voice coach at The Master’s College who focused on his personal strengths, he said.

His semiprofessional singing career carried him to Wales and England with a Welsh choir and opened the field for him to sing the national anthem across the United States. He then brought his voice home to radio and TV stations.

Then Axen became a nurse.

“I’ve toured all over the world,” he said. “This is the community I grew up in. This is my community hospital. This is where I chose to sing.”

“It’s about you and the person sitting across from you.”

The change of careers gave him pause, Axen said.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to sing the way I did before,” he said. “Now I’m actually able to do it at the same time. It became so much more than just a form of entertainment, but a tool I can use for my patients.”

But there’s no question in many people’s minds that Axen’s crooning is a simple yet powerful form of therapy.

“The most remarkable thing about Jared is to see the way he works with a team and the way he is with the patients,” said Katreena Salgado, manager of public relations for Henry Mayo.

Axen’s singing breaks the ice, easing patients and forging a bond with the patient and family through the emotions evoked by music, Salgado said.

“There’s no formal singing therapy program here,” Salgado said, “just human interaction.”

Axen says it’s become part of his job to provide intimate, musical moments of comfort, care and connection.

As a registered nurse, he specialized in post-operative trauma and stroke patient units and currently cares for patients with chronic wounds.

“They aren’t getting better quickly,” Axen said. For some patients, “it’s about how you can make their last days the best they can be. It’s important to be contagiously happy on a regular basis.”

By providing an informal source of music therapy for the patient, he brings patient care to a new level and expands on the kind of care the hospital can offer, Salgado said.

Both Henry Mayo and Axen’s patients have recognized him for his patient care. The hospital has given him its service excellence award, and he’s received the patient-nominated Hospital Hero Award from the Hospital Association of Southern California.

Axen will find out if he won the countywide Hospital Hero Award for all Los Angeles County hospitals on Nov. 9, Salgado said.

Many people have their fingers crossed for him.

In a room down the hall from Genova’s, Axen sang the song “Smile” to patient Judy Miller, who smiled despite her tears.

“When you’re in the hospital, there’s really no music in here,” Miller said. “(Axen’s singing) lifts up your spirits, and when you feel better, then you’re healing better.”

Miller said to her nurse: “God puts people in your life for a reason, and I needed you today.”

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