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News > Past Student News > Human Connection: Old Girls working with our most vulnerable

Human Connection: Old Girls working with our most vulnerable

Maggie James (’97) and Cindy Pieterse (’76) are two examples of the incredible work Old Girls do in their commitment to ensuring the best quality of life and care for their patients.
Maggie James
Maggie James

Human Connection: Old Girls working with our most vulnerable

Many Old Girls are driven towards careers in service to others, much aligned with the ethos of the Sisters of the Society of the Sacred Advent (SSA). Many of our Old Girls work across various allied health services with the most vulnerable of peoples across all stages of life – from birth to death, rehabilitation to recovery.

Maggie James (’97, nee Leung) and Cindy Pieterse (’76, nee Giddens) are two examples of the incredible work Old Girls do in their commitment to ensuring the best quality of life and care for their patients. Both were inherently drawn to their careers through one commonality: human connection. Whether it be through music or storytelling, both Maggie and Cindy have dedicated their professional careers to caring for those who need it most, through their connectedness as carers and their willingness to help through any and all stages.

Maggie James (’97, nee Leung)

Maggie Leung is the Music Therapy Clinical Leader at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. Her work centres on the rehabilitative power of music and how music therapy plays a pivotal role in the care of sick children across all stages of their hospital stay.

Maggie’s drive to become a Music Therapist was grounded in her passion for making music and the impact it can have on people:

“I started playing piano at the age of two and have always loved making music. I love seeing the joy and comfort that music brings people, especially to children who are vulnerable and unwell.” 

It was this curiosity for how music can connect people that inspired Maggie to study Music Therapy at The University of Queensland. As she learned about the brain’s response to music, the more Maggie wanted to become a Paediatric Intensive Care Music Therapist, wanting to help the most critically ill babies and children, alongside their families, through their treatment and recovery in hospital.

It is both an exciting and challenging job, with every day varying, depending on the patient and their needs. Maggie is based within the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), working with patients that require the highest and most specialised care:

“After determining the goals and treatment plan, I pack my basket of percussion instruments, song books, and my guitar and head to the PICU and offer music therapy to my most critically ill patients. I sing and play music that is familiar to my patients within the appropriate tempo, timbre, and volume to suit the individual needs and conditions of each child.”

Music therapy is critical to a child’s recovery. PICU, which can be seen as a scary environment for children, is transformed into a calm and comfortable environment through the power of music. It motivates children to participate in their rehabilitation exercises without even realising. Below is a story of how Maggie used music to work with a patient.

“Last year, I was working with a toddler who sustained an acquired brain injury that resulted in right-side body weakness. One of her rehabilitation goals was to improve her right arm and hand movement. Therefore, in music therapy, we worked closely with the physiotherapist and use various percussion instruments (such as shakers, drums), to encourage her to reach, grasp and utilise her right hand. To maximise her engagement, I re-arranged her favourite Wiggles song for guitar accompaniment, incorporation a “strong-weak-weak” rhythmic pattern in 3/4 time. This not only motivated her participation but also simulated smoother motor movements while playing percussion instruments.”

There is extensive research suggesting that music therapy reduces pain, anxiety, and can improve vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and neuroscientists have found that music activates more parts of the brain than any other human function, says Maggie.

“When we listen to music, it activates our brain stem, temporal lobe, frontal lobe, cerebellum, and limbic system. Music creates a rich volume of brain stimulation which improves our mood and reduces feelings of pain.”

In the PICU, Maggie uses activities such as singing, song composition, music making and music listening to address the patient’s needs. This can include recovery and rehabilitation, but sadly, also includes providing end-of-life support to patients and families in palliative care.

The role of Paediatric Music Therapists has grown and changed over the course of Maggie’s career, with the evolving body of music therapy research providing greater insight into music’s rehabilitative qualities and value. As a result, there are now more music therapy positions and research jobs available throughout Australia, allowing more patients, children and adults, to access the benefits of music therapy.

To learn more about Maggie’s work, please watch her TedxUQ Talk here.

Cindy Pieterse (’76, nee Giddens) 

Cindy Pieterse works for a large non-for-profit organisation within Queensland. She has held numerous leadership positions, including Assistant Coordinator Community Care, Regional Manager Community Care, and Assistant State Manager Aged Care. She oversees 16 aged care facilities across Queensland, ensuring the care and support of over 21,000 elderly residents. Cindy has also worked overseas in England and South Africa, and upon returning to Australia, gained her Graduate Diploma in Gerontology. Reflecting on her current position, Cindy is grateful to be working for the organisation’s care of Australia’s elderly population:

“I have been very fortunate to be with my present organisation for 25 years. I started working in Community Care coordinating services to the clients in their own homes. I have been given the most incredible opportunities during those 25 years to support the different services within the organisation. As we know, Aged Care is a growing industry with many opportunities to make a difference in various capacities.”

Cindy’s role as Operations Manager (Clinical) is to assist staff meet the standards of the Aged Care Quality Standards to maintain accreditation. These standards are in place to ensure that the highest possible care is delivered, utilising a person-centred model to ensure the most effective and beneficial care. Cindy supports her team through the establishment of efficient business systems, as well as quality of care training:

“If we are fortunate, we will all age and possibly need care; therefore, I want to see the best models and standards of care for our parents and those who follow, including my generation, if and when we need to go into Aged Care.”

“Forty-four years ago, many of the hospital patients I looked after were older and stayed in hospital for a greater length of time; therefore, I got to know them really well, which was a great privilege.”

It is this human connection, and the power of storytelling as a tool of intergenerational bonding, that Cindy holds to be at the centre of Aged Care and the importance of nurturing each patient. When she first started her nursing training, Cindy wanted to become a theatre nurse, as inspired by her aunt. It was during this training that Cindy felt her distinct connection with older people, particularly enjoying their wisdom and stories. Even as a student, Cindy cleaned for an older person from her church community for pocket money, and found she also immensely enjoyed her company.

“Every person is unique and has their own story to tell. It is so important to value their stories. Our journey and stories shape all of us. Being in Aged Care, we get to know the person so well and our nursing looks at the whole person in this holistic approach.”

“We aim to show love, care, and respect to all people in our care, remembering these people  have led full and interesting lives, and still have much to offer.”

Working in this particular field has highlighted to Cindy the importance of staying connected to family and community, staying motivated and interested in life, as well as exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Both Maggie and Cindy have forged their careers in a desire to help others, to connect with those who are vulnerable and help alleviate their pain or ensure the highest quality of life. Their bravery in facing these hard moments with both patients and their families alike, as well as helping to care for the most vulnerable members of our population – from babies all the way through to end-of-life patients – is remarkable.

By Lizzie Fowler (’19)
Relationships and Mentoring Manager

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