They arrived quietly, with none of the fanfare that so often accompanies them as international pop culture icons. Away from the screaming crowds this past Friday and Saturday, they came simply to make gentle, one-to-one contact with a far different audience – grateful patients, parents and staff at All Children’s Hospital.
Hours before belting out "everybody's working for the weekend" at a revamped Taste of Pinellas, the ‘80s rock group Loverboy sang lullabies to a baby in the NICU, led by All Children’s music therapist Kelly Tyrrell.
During one of their many room visits, hard-rocking diva Pat Benatar and guitar-hero husband Neil Giraldo bantered with 16-yer-old Joshua Cox, who proudly revealed he’d achieved the high score on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in the video game Guitar Hero. “I have the low score,” quipped Giraldo. Comparing notes with the woman who actually sang the song and the man responsible for the real-life guitar work – priceless.
|Dan Aykroyd with baby Veda Venema (He|
talked to the parents about playing the father of
a girl named Veda in the 1991 movie My Girl).
And “who you gonna call” to pose for countless photos with excited doctors and nurses and give a lift to sick kids and their families? That, of course, would be Dan Aykroyd, the famed comedian and musician from Saturday Night Live, the Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters, staying well past his allotted time to chat and interact in a down-to-earth manner with anyone in his path.
Thousands of spectators and some two-dozen restaurant vendors packed the new waterfront venue at Albert Whitted Park, enjoying a bill highlighted on Friday by Loverboy and Benatar, and KC and the Sunshine Band and the Blues Brothers Saturday.
But the hospital scenes that unfolded away from the bustling Taste were just as big a hit. Late Friday morning, Loverboy lead singer Mike Reno, along with bandmates Ken Sinnaeve and Doug Johnson, listened intently as Tyrrell explained “multimodal” therapy techniques to calm sick newborns – a combination of soothing, repetitive music and touching. “Music is very powerful, very effective and very emotional,” she said. “And part of what we’re doing with the older babies is helping to promote their development. What we want to do is use music as positive stimulation, without over-stimulating them.”
Moments later, Reno sat down in a NICU rocking chair and cradled an infant boy named Rome. Tyrrell proceeded to lead the group in several calming renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. She had even worked up a lullaby version of the Canadian group’s signature hit, Working for the Weekend, but baby Rome fidgeted and began to cry, not yet ready for the pop charts. So the veteran rockers switched back to Twinkle, Twinkle, The Itsy Bitsy Spider and the Alphabet song, and the tunes worked like a charm.
|Loverboy and Music Therapist Kelly Tyrrell in action|
For the Lover Boy members, two of whom have grandkids, it was a magical moment that left them marveling at what they’d just seen.
“It makes me feel better about my job,” said Johnson, smiling.
“That was touching, it really got to me,” added Reno. “I love children and you can see from this the universal impact music has on them. I think it’s almost as important as breathing.”
Late in the afternoon, while Lover Boy got set to take the stage, two familiar faces in the rock world walked into the ACH lobby. Benatar, a four-time Grammy winner, and Giraldo, whose lead guitar work powered his wife’s music throughout her long career as well as many other major acts, couldn’t wait to get the tour under way. They were joined by All Children’s Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Safety Office Brigitta Mueller, M.D., and ACH Foundation vice president Sylvia Ameen, hearing about the hospital’s mission and savoring conversations with kids and adults as they toured the PICU.
|Neil Giraldo and Pat Benatar making new fans|
Benatar and Giraldo, married for 33 years with two grown daughters, asked to see more, and Dr. Mueller obliged by bringing them to the NICU. The singer, a fixture of MTV’s early years with hits like mega-hit Love Is A Battlefield, admired a volunteer rocking a baby to sleep in a dimly lit corner. “That’s what I want to do when I retire,” she said, smiling. “I’m a sucker for infants.”
The couple came away from the visit feeling uplifted, two hours before they would do the same for clamoring fans. “It was amazing,” Benatar said. “And this hospital is just beautiful.”
Saturday afternoon was Aykroyd’s turn to lighten the mood. Wearing a casual white shirt and Victoria Police cap from his native Canada, Aykroyd was a magnet on every corridor he walked – and he happily posed for camera-phone snapshots with any and everyone who asked.
But he was equally interested in hearing from Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs about the cutting-edge heart surgery work done at All Children’s, then seeing the tiny heart patients and their parents in the CVICU, or looking at brain scans in an office with ACH pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Luis Rodriguez, there with his three sons.
“Future Ghostbusters?” Aykroyd asked playfully.
Down another hallway, a little boy named James waited patiently to catch the past Ghostbuster’s attention. “You’re my biggest fan,” the child proclaimed, innocently inverting his words amid the excitement. “I can’t believe I found you!”
|Dan Aykroyd and James|
“You found me, man,” a beaming Aykroyd replied.
So did many on the hour-plus tour prior to show time.
“It’s so impressive and this just puts things into total perspective,” he said as the visit wound down. “We see that there are people quietly doing great work, and going unrecognized, every day of their lives.”
But for a little while, a handful of stars shined brightly on them and those they care for, bringing a taste of a special All Children’s weekend to those who needed it most.
Click here to see more photos of the celebrity visits at the hospital.