Maggie walked some rugged paths during her stays at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, but her music therapist, Kirsten Nelson, was there every step of the way. In this AMTA-Pro podcast, Kirsten shares the compelling story of Maggie’s journey through life and her experiences with music therapy in pediatric palliative care. Kirsten serves pediatric inpatients by referral, is the Internship Director at the hospital, and is a member of the newly formed Pediatric Palliative Care Core team.


Kirsten begins the discussion by describing her role on the Pediatric Palliative Care interdisciplinary team at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The interdisciplinary team consults with the primary medical staff, supports the quality of life for children with serious or life-threatening illness, and helps prevent or relieve the suffering of children and their families. The Goals of Care include symptom management, family support and counseling, reviewing goals of children and familiies, providing information regarding decisions for allowing  natural death, transitional care, hospice referrals, and end of life care.

Kirsten captures the essence of music therapy services in pediatric palliative care by sharing the journey of her friend, Maggie, a youngster who thrived on music and who touched the hearts of many people during her short life.

Four short audio clips follow Kirsten’s segment of the podcast. The first is Emily Hazelwood, MA, CCLS – certified child life specialist, talking briefly about helping Maggie develop and accomplish her “bucket list.”

Next, Maggie’s doctor and nurse discuss the challenges encountered when talking to children and their families about DNR. Maggie’s doctor, Stacy McConkie, MD, is a physician and medical director of the pediatric palliative care program at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Janine Petitgout, ARNP, an advance practice nurse manages the pediatric palliative care program at the hospital.

“Keep Trying” is one of the songs Maggie composed while in music therapy at the hospital. Kirsten shares this story about Maggie’s song. “My music therapy intern and I recorded this song in Maggie’s hospital room by I and mixed in GarageBand. She is playing the guitar and singing. The night after we recorded this, Maggie had a prolonged seizure and was never able to play this song again. Wow – I never thought of it that way – this performance was the last time she sang and played this song.”

The final segment of this AMTA-Pro podcast was recorded for a Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon in the spring of 2006 during Maggie’s first hospitalization. During the fundraising radiothon, the Children’t Miracle Network features stories of youngsters in the hospital, and often highlight services such as child life and music therapy. The CMN team came to Maggie’s room with a recorder and captured one of her guitar lessons, then mixed it to make this compelling radio spot.

The University of Iowa Children’s Hospital is a 190 bed children’s hospital housed within the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa. Music therapy has been offered at UIHC since the early 1980’s. Currently, three music therapists serve adults and children throughout the hospital in (1) pediatrics, including the neonatal intensive care unit, (2) adult and pediatric palliative care, and (3) all behavioral health units.
The hospital’s website is

ABOUT THE AMTA-PRO PODCAST SPEAKER: Kirsten Nelson, BM, MT-BC, NMT has been at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital since 2002. She serves pediatric inpatients by referral and is a member of the newly formed Pediatric Palliative Care Core team. She serves as the Internship Director for UIHC. Prior to working at the University of Iowa, Kirsten worked 8 years at West Music developing contractual music therapy services and marketing books and materials. She has experience working with children and adults in inpatient behavioral health settings, typically developing preschoolers through “Growing with Music” and children and adults with developmental disabilities.