It isn’t every day that live music plays on the seventh floor of the UConn Health Center’s John Dempsey Hospital.
But when nurse manager Dawn Tranter heard it one day last spring, she recognized the sound right away.
“I just knew his voice and his guitar playing,” Tranter says. ‘It’s just something that resonated so much with all of us, all the staff here, that I just knew it was him when I walked onto the floor.”
“He” is Tim Lenihan, who had two stints in the hospital early last year following surgeries to repair severe leg injuries. Toward the end of his second stay, in February 2012, his wife brought in his guitar.
“One day we heard music coming from that side of the unit, and we walked by, and he was playing his guitar,” Tranter says. “He has a beautiful singing voice. He started singing, then it just sort of became infectious.”
“Initially I played from my room as I was unable to move around, but the circle floor layout allowed other patients to hear me from my room,” Lenihan says. “They started to make requests that the staff would relay to me. It was nice to know that I was putting a smile on someone’s face who was dealing with their own medical issues.”
Tranter recalls, “We had another patient, who was a couple doors down, who wasn’t well at all, and she asked if he could play her a song. So he’s playing and singing in his room, and we’re standing outside her door, she can hear it, and she’s singing in her room. And this was a patient who was very sick. She was with us for a couple of weeks. It was a tear jerker.”
When he was well enough to sit in a wheelchair with his leg propped, Lenihan wheeled himself around the floor and offered to play at other patients’ doorways.
“It was really something. It was so cool,” Tranter says. “It was kind of like what you would see in a movie. When he was in his room he was playing loud enough for somebody to hear two doors down. And when he could, it was his idea to get into a wheelchair and get out to the rooms where people could hear him.”
A compression fracture of his right leg, including several bone breaks and a shattered tibia plateau, is what sent Lenihan to the UConn Health Center. It could have sent him to any number of places for his care; he was injured in a skiing accident at the Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine.
Despite having the option of getting treatment locally, he chose to return to Connecticut. He had a friend drive him back home in his car that night, and insisted on going to the UConn Health Center for his care.
“I felt the doctors here had more experience with this difficult injury,” Lenihan says. “I selected UConn as I know they are a teaching hospital and had a great reputation. My mother-in-law had very successful bypass surgery there.”
He would undergo his first surgery the following day. Nearly 14 months would pass between the first time he played his guitar in the hospital and that day last April where he and his guitar showed up unannounced.
“I had wanted to stop back for some time but was unable to drive for many months,” Lenihan says.
“We didn’t know if we would see him again,” Tranter says.
When he finally did make it back, it turned out to be an emotional visit.
“I played for an older lady who was dying and was surrounded by her loving daughters,” Lenihan says. “They asked me to play ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ a song their father always sang to their mother. I knew some of the words but the daughters jumped right in and all sang for their mother. It was a very touching moment.”
“He’s just very connected, and cares about other people who might have been in his situation,” Tranter says.
Lenihan, who says he often plays his guitar for donations to fight cystic fibrosis, says what motivates him to play for others is “knowing that for a brief moment they forget their troubles and enjoy a break from their current struggles.”