Sunny Hill Rehabilitation Centre



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As a speech-language pathologist working at Sunny Hill, having a music therapist is invaluable to supporting voice and communication goals for my young patients. The music therapist is able to help children work on their oral motor movements while playing instruments, as well as practice different pitch, pace and volume of their voices in singing. The music therapist is also able to help reinforce vocabulary, signs, gestures, and turn taking in the fun and motivating context of music. Lastly, our music therapist is able to help kids feel more comfortable and safe in a hospital-like setting while helping building rapport with other therapists. Music therapy is crucial in making our patients’ rehabilitation better.”

Speech Language Pathologist

Sunny Hill Rehabilitation Center

Sunny Hill is the only children’s rehabilitation facility of its kind in BC. Thousands of families from 250 communities across the province head to Sunny Hill each year seeking assessments, diagnoses and rehabilitation for a wide range of conditions affecting their development. Often, Sunny Hill is the next step in the health care journey for children and their families once their acute medical issues are treated at BC Children’s Hospital. Therefore, kids aren’t sick in the traditional sense, rather they are learning or re-learning skills to live their best lives. A child may be going through rehabilitation to re-learn how to walk after a traumatic spinal injury. Another might be learning a new way to communicate with their family using special technology. In situations like these, Sunny Hill means everything to families. It gives them courage. It gives them strength. Most of all, it gives them hope.

In addition to dedicated one-to-one and group therapy sessions, the music therapist at Sunny Hill attends family meetings with the child’s rehab team to review progress and goals. As an integral part of the child’s rehab journey, the music therapist’s attendance in these meetings is invaluable.

Over the past several months, the music therapist has also increased collaboration with colleagues, including Occupational Therapists and Speech Language Pathologists, to work together to better meet the needs of kids receiving care at Sunny Hill.


Sunny Hill’s patient population ranges from new born babies to teenagers. As such, music therapy is offered to children of all ages at the health centre.

How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of clients at Sunny Hill?

Kids aren’t just small adults; they need health care that is tailored to their needs. That means ensuring their special emotional needs are considered with services that make them feel calm and cared for – because their early experiences will define who they become. Often, a child’s stay at Sunny Hill can last weeks, even months. Not surprisingly, research shows that children and youth in care over long periods are at risk for anxiety, depression, developmental regression, behaviour, and learning issues. With the generous support of donors like you, Sunny Hill is able to offer music therapy to help counteract some of the negative effects of long-term rehabilitation.

Music and relaxation techniques administered by the music therapist at Sunny Hill are an effective means to provide comfort, relaxation and distraction during times of stress. Music can help ease anxiety, fear and pain during a child’s rehabilitation journey.

How has COVID-19 impacted the program?

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, group sessions have been paused, greatly reducing the number of patients music therapists are able to connect with. Instead, the music therapist has focused on individual sessions with patients at their bedsides, where they are needed most.

Adopting the program at Sunny Hill will help to sustain increased services and be better able to meet the needs of a population range of infants to youth who are not sick in the traditional sense. Your funding will reach 50% more children and youth who are admitted to Sunny Hill for various acute rehabilitation needs. In 2021 the need for individual music therapy sessions is expected to increase as COVID-19 protocols are forcing programs to pivot from group sessions to increased one-to-one sessions.

Your help is now crucial more than ever to help the music therapy program at Sunny Hill attend to each child and their unique needs. One-to-one sessions better meet the needs of the individual child and have a greater impact on their recovery. By adopting this program, you are helping to relief stirs of anxiety, fear and pain during a child’s rehabilitation journey.

Even before Libby entered the world, her parents knew that something was not quite right.

An ultrasound when her mother, Hong, was pregnant revealed that Libby’s arms were crooked, and that she was missing finger bones. When she was born in 2008, Libby had a hole in the wall of her heart, was deaf, had no thumbs, and had vertebral deformities in the neck. Over the years that followed, Libby had eight surgeries, including hand surgery to create thumbs, and cochlear implants which allowed her to hear. With these surgeries, specialized care, and regular follow­ups at BC Children’s, Libby thrived, learning to walk, run, write and feed herself. With her newfound hearing, she developed a great love for music of all types. But in early fall of 2018, Libby’s condition began to deteriorate when she lost movement in her right arm and started having difficulties walking.

Libby underwent an intensive, seven-hour surgery jointly conducted by the neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery teams after an MRI scan revealed that her spinal cord was compressed where it connected to her skull. Following surgery, Libby was very weak and it was uncertain whether she would ever walk again. Libby was sent to Sunny Hill for rehabilitation therapy, where she stayed for four weeks and visited as an outpatient for five weeks. What occurred there was nothing short of remarkable. Within the first week, she was able to sit up straight again. And within two weeks, she was able to stand with assistance.

After six weeks, Libby was walking again, and was able to start feeding herself. During her stay at Sunny Hill, Libby had several interactions with Louise, a music therapist. “Libby’s joy of music was so visible,” said Louise. “Whenever she heard music her face would light up and she would make a beeline for the source of the sound. She just wanted to be near the music, and would listen with such encouragement.” Libby could often be found experimenting with the instruments as well, playing the piano or xylophone with her mom in the gym. “It was great to see her so engaged,” said Louise. “Using her hands this way were a big help in strengthening her fine motor skills.” Today, Libby continues to show progress and receives regular therapy with the occupational and physical therapy teams at Sunny Hill. “We feel very fortunate that Libby is able to receive help and care from the Sunny Hill team,” said Hong. “The care we have received after the surgery has allowed Libby to recover in such a short amount of time and regain function in her arms and legs. Sunny Hill provides the best environment for children to help them reach their full potential.”

Louise Whitehead

Louise Whitehead (BMus, MMT, MTA) is a certified Music Therapist who has been working in the field for over 30 years. She started working in a variety of clinical settings with children, adolescents, adults and older adults, later settling into two part time positions – Riverview Hospital (Provincial Mental Health Facility) and Sunny Hill Health Centre. Currently she works at Sunny Hill providing music therapy to children/youth after a brain injury, spinal cord injury, acute trauma/illness or post-operative care. Louise believes that children/youth learn through music and play, and with support from Music Heals, music therapy will continue to improve the quality of the experience and the care for patients and families at Sunny Hill.

You can help us reach more Canadians with the healing power of music. We invite you to give the gift of music to provide hope, strength, relief and encouragement to Canadians in need.

No contribution is too small!