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Music therapy room dedicated at Sarasota Memorial Hospital

SARASOTA — Clinton Miller, 16, got a surprise visit Monday during his stay at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

And it wasn’t from Santa Claus.

“Hello, kiddo!” said AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, who dropped by the pediatrics department on the fifth floor to see Miller and a few other patients.

Johnson, a Sarasota resident, stopped in for the dedication of a new music therapy room at the hospital named after him.

Johnson and other rock stars, including drummer Steve Luongo, formerly of the John Entwistle Band, have supported an effort to buy music equipment and provide music education for children, including those in the hospital.

“What drives us all is the opportunity to help children,” said Luongo, head of the John Entwistle Foundation. “We had to deliver some music to people who needed it or couldn’t otherwise get it.”

The equipment and memorabilia in the room were donated to the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation Inc. by the Entwistle Foundation, named for the late bassist of The Who.

Children who stay at the hospital on U.S. 41 can now stop by the room and take turns playing guitars and drums or even singing.

Johnson showed a few of them how Monday afternoon when he broke into song as Luongo played the drums. Johnson sang his own renditions of “Route 66” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”

“It’s a cool place,” Miller said as he sat in a wheelchair and listened to the men perform.

“It’s kinda like Rock Band,” said former 9-year-old patient Logan Gray, who at one point took his turn on the drums.

Jennifer Mayer, the hospital’s medical director, called the new room a dream come true for the more than 20,000 children cared for there each year.

Music therapy helps alleviate stress and other psychological components the children sometimes endure while hospitalized.

“It’s an intervention that helps children deal and cope with their illness,” Mayer said.

Music is medicine, added James Schumacher, a neurologist at SMH.

“I’m really excited,” said Johnson, who performed with AC/DC on Sunday in Tampa. “If you’ve ever seen a kid walk into a music room and pick an instrument up — their face is priceless.”

Prior to their departure, SMH President and CEO Gwen MacKenzie thanked Johnson and Luongo for their donations.

“This will really make the lives of our children richer,” she said, smiling.

The primary mission of the John Entwistle Foundation is to provide free music education and instruments to under-served children, according to information from the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation.

This year, the foundation has expanded its mission by including children’s hospitals for the delivery of music and its therapeutic benefits.

In 2007, Johnson and AC/DC bassist Cliff Williams united with Luongo and guitarist Mark Hitt to record new material and tour to support the foundation, according to SMHF. A Cliff Williams room is at The Children’s Cancer Hospital in Fort Myers.

As a celebrity, Entwistle raised millions of dollars to help others less fortunate, according to SMHF.

He died of a heart attack in June 2002.

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