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Utah man plays violin for ICU caregivers while intubated with COVID-19

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Registered nurse Ciara Sase is pictured with Grover Wilhelmsen and his violin in McKay-Dee Hospital’s intensive care unit,

Intermountain Healthcare

OGDEN — In the middle of McKay-Dee Hospital’s hectic intensive care unit came a surprisingly soothing sound.

Seated at the edge of his bed, intubated COVID-19 patient Grover Wilhelmsen played his violin for a suddenly growing crowd of nurses and doctors.

“His idea — he came up with it — was to be able to have his family bring in his violin and viola to be able to play for us,” said registered nurse Ciara Sase. “He was just so involved in the music and it was beautiful to see. It brought tears to my eyes instantly and I couldn’t stop bawling like a baby just listening to him.”

Wilhelmsen, a retired orchestra teacher who owns a music instruction and instrument repair business, got sick in early October and soon tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to his wife, Diana Wilhelmsen.

A bad cough sent him to the emergency room on Oct. 8, and by Oct. 10 he was in the ICU.

Wilhelmsen’s performance — a thank you to his caregivers — was captured on video early in his stay there.

It wasn’t a short recital. Medical staff said he played for a few hours on consecutive days.

“It’s a very humbling memory and experience for me to be able to look back on,” Sase said. “It’s a very special one that I will forever hold dear to my heart, because out of this I was able to be a part of something that was much bigger than myself and much bigger than COVID. We were really able to provide a lot of peace and comfort and encouragement to the patient, Grover, himself as well as the entire staff, the entire unit.”

Sase said she typically sees intubated ICU patients sedated or on pain medication and certainly not playing the violin.

“To sit on the end of the bed, read music and play an instrument — that’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen before,” Sase said. “It’s something that will forever be in my heart and will follow me for the rest of my nursing career.”

The performance struck a chord with Wilhelmsen’s family — especially knowing now that there were many somber days to follow where the musician was too weak to play.

He was finally discharged from the ICU on Nov. 10 and placed in a long-term acute care facility, where his family said they were expecting him to make a full recovery.

Though he remains weak and unable to speak, Wilhelmsen’s wife said she has already noticed improvement.

“I said, ‘It’s a complete different person,’” Diana Wilhelmsen recalled as she teared up during an interview Wednesday.

The fact that he would want to play music for doctors and nurses while in the ICU for COVID-19 is just the kind of guy he is, family members said.

“(He’s) my amazing dad,” said daughter Rebekah Blume. “What an amazing person to be able to sit there with a tube down his throat and still think of others and ‘what can I do for them.’”

The family encouraged everyone to take COVID-19 seriously and to be cautious to protect themselves as well as others.

“COVID is real,” Diana Wilhelmsen said. “It affects different people different ways. I look at how it affected Grover versus how it affected me, Rebekah got it, too, so how it affected her. It’s very real. It’s very dangerous. Wear your mask.”


Caregivers listen to Grover play the violin while in McKay Dee’s Hospital’s intensive care unit.

Intermountain Healthcare