Putting heartbeats of hospice patients to song, music therapy, more: In a Word with Fran Felton

This column spotlights the kinds of people you think about when you think about Mayo Clinic. They've answered questions, serious and otherwise, so you can know them better.

You see them at bedsides, behind desks. You may spot them walking down a hall, sprinting across a lobby, or talking quietly with a patient and family. They may be friends, teammates or someone you know only by sight. But you're glad they're here. And it's reassuring to know that the health of our patients, colleagues and the institution itself rests in their capable, friendly, earnest, caring and compassionate hands.

Fran Felton specializes in hitting the right notes for her patients and making sure they feel comfort and solace during their end-of-life care. Felton is a music therapist in Hospice at Mayo Clinic Health System in Southwest Wisconsin.

She says she is privileged to be invited into the homes of patients during the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

When Felton's family moved to Wisconsin in 2017 from Dubuque, Iowa, she approached the hospice manager in Southwest Wisconsin and proposed adding music therapy to the hospice program.

"'My favorite part about working here is the patients and families I am privileged to meet," Felton says. "The life stories to which I am introduced are a gift. Intimate relationships are forged quickly, however brief."

One of my favorite things about Mayo Clinic: I appreciate the "EverybodyIN Conversation" series, and Mayo Clinic's attempts to prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion awareness in the workplace and when caring for patients.

The single most important thing I did at work yesterday (or expect to do tomorrow): Treat the person, not only the diagnosis, problem or assessed need. Patients and families remember when you treat them with compassion and dignity, and truly listen to their concerns.

A book I would recommend, or one I want to read: "Tailspin," by John Armbruster. This is a true account of a WWII fighter pilot from Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin, who survived a four-mile fall from his plane without a parachute, and his death march as a prisoner of war. It is an incredible story of struggle, grief, family and survival. John and his wife were also childhood friends of mine. It is a must-read.

Mayo Clinic has taught me: Patience and trust. Within a large organization, change takes time. I have learned that answers may not be available quickly, and there is a trusted process with many moving parts.

Most treasured or best advice from a colleague at Mayo: A hospice nurse once told me of a conversation she had with her daughter in which her daughter asked her to treat her like a hospice patient. When she asked her daughter what she meant, her daughter answered, "I need you to give me your undivided attention." I often think of this conversation when I meet with patients, and I try to also practice this kind of awareness at home with my family.

Most memorable Mayo moment: There are many, although most have one thing in common — creating a heartbeat recording with a patient and their family. Since receiving training from an Ohio music therapist who piloted this idea, I have learned to audio-record patients' heartbeats to pair with a song. I use the heartbeat as the underlying rhythm or beat of that song, which is then given to the family as a gift. These can be songs originally composed with the patient or family, existing songs that are significant to the patient and family, and that are performed live with them present, or a preferred recording of a song that is paired with the patient's heartbeat. In the last two years since learning this technique, I have twice prepared heartbeat recordings that included a patient's dog.

If I could choose the "hold" music for Mayo Clinic: I'd make a compilation of songs like "Hold On," by Alabama Shakes, "Hold On," by KT Tunstall, "Hold On," by Wilson Phillips, "Hold Tight," by Justin Bieber. You get the idea. I'd also throw in the classic "Girl from Ipanema," just for fun.

Favorite space on campus this month: Since I see patients in their homes, I'm rarely on campus. But my favorite place is near the second-floor elevators at the hospital, where volunteer Sandy King greets those who pass by. I love sharing moments of conversation with her.

People who inspire me: My teenage children. I admire their perseverance, their curiosity, their honesty and resilience. I'm grateful that they are growing up in a community that encourages them to be authentic. While I worry for their future in our troubled world, I am hopeful that they will be able to adapt and find solutions to the troubles that we and previous generations have created.

The most fun I've had at work this year: Playing with the "family band" of a patient during her 95th birthday party. Every visit with this patient and her family was like a party. We were able to create many tangible memories of music recordings and life review during music therapy visits over the five months she and her family received hospice services.

When patients recall their visit to Mayo Clinic, I hope they remember: That they are valued, that they feel heard, and that they were given the best care possible.