February 2, 2021

Music mattered most: Faculty, staff come together to grant one final wish for patient

Through a life filled with both joys and challenges, David Labelle defied many of the limits set by Cystic Fibrosis.

CF is a genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, kidneys and intestines. It often leads to a number of health complications and, for some patients, lowers their life expectancy.

That was the case with Labelle, who passed away last month at the age of 36. But thanks to the commitment of faculty and staff at Michigan Medicine, his death came shortly after the fulfillment of one of his final wishes.

A grand goal 

At age 17, Labelle was rushed to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital due to a bleeding ulcer. During his treatment and recovery, Labelle saw the beautiful grand piano in the University Hospital lobby. As a kid who loved listening to and playing a variety of instruments, Labelle dreamed of playing that piano one day. 

“Music helped him survive and live through his many challenges,” said Deb Crawford, nurse on 6C at UH, who cared for Labelle during his many hospital inpatient stays. 

The opportunity finally came almost eight years, and a few life-changing events, later. 

‘I learned so much from him’

Besides his stay at Mott nearly two decades ago, Labelle had received most of his care at Case Western Reserve Medical Center in Cleveland. However, in 2017, he had another medical emergency that brought him back to Michigan Medicine. 

At that point, he transferred his full-time care to Michigan Medicine, becoming a frequent patient on 6C. 

There, Labelle’s mother learned about the Gifts of Art bedside music program and found Gregory Maxwell, a music practitioner, to help her son cope with his pain and time away from family. 

“Even though I was there to support David during his time as an inpatient, I learned so much from him,” said Maxwell. “David was an incredible musician. Usually, I play the instrument for the patient. David was the first person who played with me.”

Both of them not only shared the same taste in rock and folk rock music, but they also both played the guitar, which Labelle learned from his father.