Music lover's legacy to Marisa Tufaro Foundation instrumental for pediatric patients

September 27, 2022

Music lover
By: Greg Tufaro

Music played an instrumental role in the life of Sandy Saurman, so it’s only fitting that her legacy be one of healing others through song.

A donation made in Saurman’s loving memory to The Marisa Tufaro Foundation expands the music therapy program at The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, where additional funding in her honor has also been used to purchase musical equipment for pediatric patients.
Saint Peter’s Child Life Program provides young patients during their stay with play and special support services including music therapy.

Music therapy addresses physical and emotional needs of patients. The music therapist works with children and their families during individual or group sessions at the patient’s bedside or in the hospital playroom. Children can sing, play, move, listen, or create.

An extension of the hospital’s medical team, music therapists collaborate with doctors and nurses to complement care. Music therapy sessions can be tailored to meet the needs of patients, assisting with pain management, the development of fine motor skills, the reduction of anxiety, and the stimulation of communication. Long-term patients are taught songwriting and general music.

“The music therapy program is one of several therapies we employ to assist children in adjusting to a hospital environment, to promote a calm and relaxing atmosphere and to provide an outlet for self-expression,” said Kristal Neal, CCLS, Child Life Coordinator, The Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

“While the main goal of programs such as music therapy is to encourage healing, comfort, and self-expression while in the hospital, we know the lasting impact such experiences can have on children for years to come.

Music Therapy

“Being able to partner with The Marisa Tufaro Foundation to provide more children the opportunity to experience the power of music is a true blessing.”

The musical equipment donation includes tongue drums, djembes, hand drum sets, bongos, egg shakers, song books, hospital-grade infant music mobiles, Baby Einstein music crib boxes and music app subscriptions.

The donation also enabled the hospital to purchase a custom-made violin for a musically gifted patient undergoing long-term medical treatment. The patient was allowed to personally design the beautifully crafted instrument, whose sleek black look is augmented with colorful roses.

As a patient, The Marisa Tufaro Foundation’s namesake benefited immensely from music therapy.

Marisa Tufaro, who would have graduated last year from Edison High School, survived six open-heart surgeries and a heart transplant before succumbing to a rare form of cancer following a valiant battle in 2017. She was just 13 years old.

The nonprofit established in her loving memory has donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to assist pediatric patients and underserved children throughout the greater Middlesex County area.

The Marisa Tufaro Foundation has also spearheaded multiple community initiatives resulting in the collection of thousands of toys, nonperishable food items, winter coats, baby supplies and other items for donation upon which it has placed no monetary value.

Marisa was diagnosed in utero during a 20-week ultrasound at Saint Peter’s with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a rare and serious cardiac defect that adversely affects normal blood flow through the heart.

As a state-designated acute care children’s hospital, Saint Peter’s offers a full-range of pediatric specialized healthcare services for newborns and children through young adulthood. Saint Peter’s operates one of the country’s largest and most advanced neonatal intensive care units, and its Regional Perinatal Center is renowned statewide for providing an exceptional level of high-risk maternity and neonatal care.

Music Therapy child

Saint Peter’s arranged for Marisa to be born at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals and one with which Saint Peter’s has enjoyed a longstanding affiliation.

Marisa’s parents, Cyndi and Greg, are forever indebted to Saint Peter’s for making the life-saving diagnosis that enabled their daughter’s safe delivery at CHOP, which pioneered the complex surgical repair she needed and where Marisa underwent her first open-heart surgery one day after being born.

Despite being hospitalized for a total of two years and maintaining hundreds of doctor’s appointments, Marisa was an honor roll student involved in myriad extracurricular activities who lived a vibrant life that inspired.

Throughout lengthy hospital admissions, Marisa found comfort and diversion through music therapy, whether participating with small groups in a playroom as a toddler or writing songs and playing instruments with a therapist at her bedside as a pre-teen.

She took solace in the mellifluous voice of one music therapist, who sang to Marisa while she was in a weakened state undergoing treatments for cancer, an experience with which Sandy Saurman could relate.

Music always filled the Saurman household and soothed both Sandy and her husband of 40 years, John, who predeceased her, during life's struggles and at the end of their days.

The Saurmans lived for more than four decades in Edison, raising their only daughter, Christa, in a house next door to Cyndi Tufaro. Christa and Cyndi, who grew up together one year apart, became and remain best friends.

At the time of her mother’s passing in April 2022, Christa and her family respectfully asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Sandy’s honor and loving memory to The Marisa Tufaro Foundation.

The generous request generated the single largest contribution the nonprofit has ever received. The Marisa Tufaro Foundation’s leadership, which wanted to honor Sandy’s memory with a befitting donation, selected supporting the children’s hospital’s music therapy program.

A devoted family woman strong of faith, Sandy was a member of Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in South River, where she sang soprano in the church choir and was a member of the South River Balalaika Orchestra.

Music united Sandy and John Saurman, who played in the U.S. Air Force Band. They met at Combs College of Music in Philadelphia, which coincidentally was the first college in the city and surrounding area to offer an educational program in music therapy.

John was a pianist who loved opera, jazz, and classical music. His immense and well-played record collection made him a music aficionado. John could listen to an orchestra performance on the radio and readily identify the conductor. Sandy had similar taste, also played piano, and loved singing and listening to popular music.

The apple did not fall far from the tree. Christa studied music, from classical saxophone to electric bass, throughout her school years and beyond. She earned two bachelor’s degrees from Rutgers College including one in Music Performance as a saxophone major. John accompanied Christa in a couple of semester-ending juries, a music student’s final performance in front of a faculty panel. While in college, Christa provided private and small group instrumental music instruction. After graduation, she worked for the New York Philharmonic and Young Audiences New Jersey.

A devoted wife and loving mother of two children, Christa also learned the importance of family from her parents, who reveled in the joy of time spent with their daughter and grandchildren.

Sandy drove countless miles to watch her grandchildren's soccer games, as well as theatrical, dance, and church performances. She took them to New York City for dance performances and orchestra concerts.

Sandy’s love of music and desire to share it with others is now part of her legacy at a children’s hospital that gave Marisa the gift of life.

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