“Music Man” Chaplain Charles Heals Spirits

He who sings, prays twice.” The words of the ancient philosopher St. Augustine come to mind when Chaplain Charles Kibirige’s sings  to patients and visitors at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland.

Although music was a constant in his life growing up with his now deceased musician dad Henry Kasule, Chaplain Charles said his love of music flourished while he was in seminary. He attended Katigondo National Seminary and Ggaba National Seminary in Uganda where he completed degrees in philosophy and theology respectively.

Between 2001 and 2013, Chaplain Charles served the community of Ann Arbor as an ordained priest. In 2003 he was hired as one of the Priest Chaplains at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor where served for 10 years and where he also started his career as a health care chaplain. After voluntarily leaving the active ministry, Chaplain Charles accepted his current role of full-time chaplain at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland in 2014.

“I never saw myself as an entertainer but rather as someone who wanted to use my gift of music to bring comfort and healing to others,” said Chaplain Charles.  “I’ve always wanted to bring music into my healing ministry. In fact, I have been, for some time now, using music as therapy when working with patients on the Behavioral Health Unit here at SJMO and it has been well received by both the patients and the staff on the unit. However, I knew I needed to extend this further into my ministry on other units.”

Chaplain Charles started to bring his guitar to the 2 p.m. prayer service he holds in the ICU waiting room. Although he doesn’t play every time, he uses it as a way to be present with people as well as to start a deeper conversation on their presenting health issues.

Chaplain Charles recalls one of these conversations with a young mother and her 4-year-old son who were visiting a family member. He played one of the theme songs from Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse show. The little boy could not help but sing along with excitement. This moment opened the door to a deeper conversation with the boy’s mother and family. He prayed with the family. While walking back to his office, it struck Chaplain Charles deeply about how the Holy Spirit used a simple secular song to draw these people closer to God in a time they most needed it.

Chaplain Kibirige is known as the “music man” to patients.

Another striking example of the power of music happened this past July. A man he had never met before stopped Chaplain Charles during his rounds in the ICU.

“‘Are you Charles the music man,’ he asked me. ‘The nurse told us about you and how you play music for the patients. Would you be able to play a song for my wife?” Chaplain Charles recalled.

The man, Norm Kerr of Roseville, explained that his wife, Dianne, had suffered a stroke while at a family member’s high school graduation party in Waterford and was brought to St. Joe’s Oakland for treatment. Norm said Dianne loved the old country song from Charlie Pride, “There Goes My Everything” and asked Chaplain Charles if he could play it for his wife. Chaplain Charles agreed to look up the song and learn it.

“I went home that weekend, looked the song up, and put a little dose of my own creativity to the arrangement,” he said. “I went back the following Monday and played it for the patient. However, Norm was not present that day but his son made a recording of the presentation on his phone as I sang the song for Dianne. It was a day later that I got a call from Norm letting me know how beautiful it was and how meaningful it was to him and his wife and family.”

Chaplain Charles continued to see the family and play for them occasionally while they were in the hospital. Dianne’s condition improved from being unresponsive on their first encounter, to making nods and other nonverbal communications in the subsequent days and weeks. Eventually, Dianne was discharged and returned home to her family.

“I see in this whole experience, among other things, music’s ability to help inspire hope and healing in patients,”  he said.

Chaplain Charles and his guitar visit the ICU waiting room daily at 2 p.m. He also visits the Behavioral Medicine floor. 

Giving Back is Our Philosophy- Luanne and Howard Booth

13 years ago, when Luanne Booth was treated for endometrial cancer, she never expected to be facing the disease again. The surgery went well, lab results indicated the cancer was gone, and her prognosis was good.  But in January 2017, Luanne received the diagnosis that the cancer was back and a second surgery was not an option. She didn’t hesitate. She knew exactly where to go for treatment, St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Cancer Care Center.

Luanne and her husband, Howard Booth, moved to the area from Ypsilanti where he had been an Eastern Michigan University physiology/ biology professor and vault coach for 47 years and she had been Head of Middle School at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor.  They found St. Joe’s Chelsea near their new home to be a first class hospital with the small community feel that inspired their move, and have trusted the hospital with their health care needs ever since.   

One of the most impactful moments Luanne recalled from her treatment was Dr. Rebecca Liu, a specialist in gynecological cancers, recommending a clinical trial. Luanne and Howard felt it was important to participate. “While we hoped the trial protocol would help fight my cancer, we also highly value scientific study and the difference it makes improving treatment,” explained Luanne.

Saint Joseph Mercy Health System is one of only 34 National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Programs (NCORP), and holds the highest grant score in the nation.  St. Joe’s NCORP, housed in Ann Arbor and offered through all our Cancer Centers in Chelsea, Brighton, Livonia, Canton and Pontiac serves 5,000 patients eliminating the costs, health risks and stress of traveling by bringing research trials close to home.

“I feel so lucky I was a candidate for the trial arm of the study. It is in the second phase and showing promising results,” Luanne said.  As part of the trial, Luanne underwent rigorous treatment including radiation five days a week for five weeks while undergoing chemotherapy for one day a week for 7 hours each time, which caused debilitating side effects. Following that, Luanne was treated with three sessions of outpatient brachytherapy, benefitting from the continuum of care between St. Joe’s Chelsea and Ann Arbor, housing one of the nation’s few high-dose-rate / low-dose-rate brachytherapy surgical suites.

Through it all, Luanne maintained her positive outlook and gratitude for the care she received. Most of all, she admired the staff’s professionalism, warmth and kindness, and personal interest. “You don’t really know the depth of the preparation and side effects of treatment until you’re going through it, and the staff is with you every step of the way, helping you cope, encouraging you, and gently managing things like your violent stomach upset, fatigue, and collapsing veins. You can tell they love their jobs and their patients.”

The Double Ribbon Mobius is a 9-foot tall coated aluminum sculpture chosen for its dynamic, strong and heart-like appearance. The Double Ribbon Mobius is a 9-foot tall coated aluminum sculpture chosen for its dynamic, strong and heart-like appearance.

During treatment, Luanne and Howard also noticed the beautiful, well-appointed features donors made possible. “When you go into St. Joe’s Chelsea Cancer Center, and you’re so warmly received by the

 concierge Ken and department secretary Betty, they have set up a convenient card swipe for check-in, there is a warm fireplace, comfortable seating, gorgeous paintings, the food is like room service, you make friends with all the patients and spouses, and the staff is so cheerful, there is just one thing that doesn’t fit, the view out the window to the bleak rooftop,” explained Luanne. “Howard and I have a philosophy, we give back any way we can. I’m a musician and painter, so the idea of beautifying the rooftop with a sculpture appealed to us.  We wanted our gift to make the experience even better for other patients and to be a lasting reminder of our gratitude to the staff for their wonderful care.”

“Howard and Luanne Booth’s generous support is making our incredible Cancer Center even better,” said Judy Stratman, Director of Development. “We are fortunate to have supporters who understand the important role that art plays in the healing experience. Their gift will have a lasting impact on patients and families who rely on St. Joe’s Chelsea for cancer care.”

I Feel Lucky

Luanne Booth wanted to do more than sit on the sidelines watching her husband, Howard, a World Champion in pole vault and other track events and current men’s vault coach at EMU, so she also joined the Michigan Senior Olympics.  She has run in distance and sprint competitions and qualified for the nationals.

This same champion spirit helped her get through cancer with courage, hope and determination. Just three days after finishing a three-month-long rigorous treatment plan at St. Joe’s as part of a phase 2 study that included beam radiation, chemotherapy and brachytherapy, Luanne joined Howard for a trip to Washington DC for the 2017 National Street Vault at Freedom Plaza. The treatments were physically draining and she spent the trip in a wheelchair, but she was not going to miss it.

“I got around pretty well,” Luanne said. Today, less than a year later, Luanne is building up her strength and stamina to run again, is filled with vibrancy, and takes walks every day.  Her resilience and healing journey inspire everyone she knows and meets. Luanne will tell you, “I just feel very lucky.”

Howard and Luanne Booth 2013 Senior Olympics

For information about cancer services call 734-712-HOPE or visit stjoeschelsea.org/chelsea-cancer-care.

To make a gift to St. Joe’s Chelsea today, visit: giving.stjoeshealth.org/chelsea

Or contact the Office of Development:

Katie Elliott, Director of Major and Planned Gifts
734-712-3919 or
Katie.Elliott@stjoeshealth.org  

Karen Campbell, Gift Officer
734-712-2890 or
Karen.Campbell@stjoeshealth.org  

Melissa Sheppard, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations
734-712-4079 or
Melissa.Sheppard@stjoeshealth.org

(Source: “Gift of Health Spring” 2018)