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Music therapy hitting all the right notes with sickle cell patients

September is sickle cell awareness month and a local music therapy program is a painkiller for patients

CREVE COEUR, Mo. — Sometimes, healing has a soundtrack.

For 23-year-old Brittany Butts, music treats the wounds that medicine can't.

"I think music helps me express most of my emotions," said Brittany.

Today, she's having another session with music therapist Tracie Sandheinrich.

"It gives the chance for the brain to focus on something really positive even when there is pain happening."

She wasn't just born in a hospital, she's practically grown up in one.

"I have sickle cell disease," she said.

Sickle cell is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which there aren't enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.  It can cause periodic episodes of excruciating pain.

"I've been struggling with pain all my life, "Brittany tells us. "It feels like broken glass is going through my blood veins."

But she's been working with Tracie since she was 12, as part of a program through Maryville University called "Kids Rock Cancer".  

"There was just something really magical about our relationship from the get-go," said Tracie.

And music has been a painkiller.

During their sessions, Tracie helps Brittany express her deepest thoughts and those thoughts then become the lyrics to an original song.

"What it was like to be out of school. What it was like to deal with teachers and family and friends that didn't understand sickle cell," explains Tracie.

Then together, they create the melody.

The struggle has given Brittany strength. This December, she will graduate from the University of Missouri St. Louis with plans on becoming a psychologist.

"There's a lot of mental health that goes into this," she said. "Like depression, anxiety, social awkwardness."

One of her original songs is called "Stronger" because Brittany is convinced that music has given her muscles she never knew she had.

Music therapy from Kids Rock Cancer.  Helping young patients in pain sing a different tune.

"I hope to make a difference, "adds Brittany. "By inspiring people to keep going."