Ciriello (11) plays music for New York Presbyterian hospital

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Lily Sussman and Sydney Kurtz

In honor of World Prematurity Day, Isabella Ciriello (11) played guitar at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of New York Presbyterian Hospital for parents and doctors this Thursday. The NICU is a hospital unit that treats babies with health issues born before the usual 40 weeks.

Ciriello was born prematurely at just 24 weeks old and lived in the NICU for 88 days, she said. Doctors in the NICU often played classical music for the babies in their isolettes to promote brain development, she said.

The classical music she listened to as a baby in the NICU may have contributed to her interest in music, she said. She has played piano, classical, and acoustic guitar from a young age, and is currently a member of the school’s Concert Glee Club and the Music Outreach Club.

Ciriello first visited the NICU four years ago and played classical music to the babies. This time, she played “Suite for Solo Cello No. 1” by Johann Sebastian Bach and inspiring pop songs like “Vienna” by Billy Joel and “Yesterday” by The Beatles on the guitar.

Ciriello chose well-known songs so that the audience could easily connect with her, she said. “[The NICU] is kind of a dark place — parents don’t have much hope and it can be kind of scary,” Ciriello said. “It’s just a good thing to show parents that the doctors and nurses truly make miracles happen every day.”

When she was around 12 or 13 years old, Ciriello decided to learn about her past in the NICU. She read the blog that her mother wrote to update friends and family about her progress, milestones, and surgeries while she was housed in the care facility, she said. As Ciriello learned more about that part of her life, she met her neonatologist, the doctor who looked after her. He gave her the opportunity to play music at the NICU, she said.

She empathized with the parents in her audience by thinking back to what her parents went through when she was in the NICU, Ciriello said. “Hopefully, they will see that things might be okay for them and that even though it might not seem possible now, their child could grow up to be capable of doing such things.”