Allison Perry

Piano Prodigy Performs for NICU Pediatrician during Special Reunion

Published: Jun 13, 2014

 

Video by Allison Perry, UK Public Relations and Marketing

 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 13, 2014) -- Classical music streaming through the UK Chandler Hospital drew awe-inspired patients, visitors and hospital workers to a Yamaha piano in the Pavilion A lobby.

 

With his fingers sputtering across the black and white keys, the young performer soothed the hospital atmosphere with the melodies of Mozart and familiar tunes from the musical Phantom of the Opera. The 18-year-old has never had a piano lesson in his life. And, without sheet music as a guide, he relies on memorization to play complex pieces of composition.  

 

Self-taught pianist Kennedy Wickers returned to Kentucky Children's Hospital May 29 to give a special reunion performance for the doctor who cared for him in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). When Kennedy was born 26 weeks premature in October of 1995, he was given a 50 percent chance of survival. He suffered from severe bleeding in his brain and other complications at birth, including a heart condition called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Because of the high-grade bleeding in his brain, UK pediatrician Dr. Nirmala Desai told Kennedy's family that he might never walk, talk or develop normally.

 

After a lunch hour performance in Pavilion A, mother Heather Wickers, grandmother Rachelle Chattin and now 6-foot-tall Kennedy, reunited with Desai. Heather Wickers, who wiped away tears after embracing Desai, recalled the moment the UK pediatrician entered her hospital room 18 years ago. She said Desai held her hand while she explained Kennedy's condition.

 

"(Dr. Desai) came in and told me he had the bleeds in his brain - a Grade 4 and Grade 3 - and I thought that meant he was going to be a vegetable," Wickers said. "And then she came up and grabbed my hand, and told me not to worry about it - that time was going to tell. I remember her calming me down."

 

After two months in the NICU, baby Kennedy went home to Frankfort with his family. A few weeks later, Kennedy endured another health scare when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. He was sent back to the pediatric intensive care unit at UK for a second time. Heather Wickers remembers receiving a visit from a hospital chaplain during her second trip to UK. She said it was a miracle her son survived.

 

"There was a chapel lady who came in and prayed - and then in less than a week, he was going home," Wickers said. "I guess the prayer worked. I didn't know much about prayer, but I started liking it after that."

 

Moved to tears by Kennedy's soulful performance in Pavilion A, Desai said watching Kennedy play the piano was a gratifying experience that brought more meaning to her work in the NICU. While she couldn't have predicted that a baby born into the world with severe brain bleeding would develop a remarkable musical talent, she always hopes for the best outcome for her patients. She was also impressed with how tall Kennedy had grown - babies who have a complicated neonatal course often experience stunted growth.

 

"I am glad I didn't have a crystal ball, because I would have been wrong," Desai said of Kennedy. "It's sort of a validation of what you do. The way his music touched my heart gave me goose bumps."

 

Desai credits an involved family for providing a supportive home environment that gave Kennedy the best chances for cognitive and physical development. Kennedy's brain bleeds as a baby put him at high risk for cerebral palsy. Kennedy was diagnosed with the pediatric brain disorder colpocephaly at the age of 16, and although he struggles with academics, the condition hasn't interfered with his musical pursuits.

      

Heather Wickers said Kennedy's first exposure to classical music must have occurred in his first few hours of life - in an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit at Kentucky Children's Hospital. At the time Kennedy was born, nurses played classical music in the NICU to help relax the babies.

 

From the time he could walk, Kennedy was dabbling in music and dancing to the rhythm of the dryer. He started playing with a small keyboard that he received as a gift when he was 10 years old. At age 15, Kennedy stunned his entire family by performing a song by pop band Coldplay during a home school talent show.

 

"I've always been drawn to it, and I can't help it," Kennedy said of music. "It's like food."

With no formal training, Kennedy has relied on the Internet and YouTube to teach himself how to play the keyboard. In addition to learning classical piano, Kennedy has taught himself to sing opera and popular musical numbers. An enthusiastic fan of the Mozart's temperate style and lesser known composers like Ysaÿe, Kennedy said he dreams of one day playing piano in a traveling orchestra. He also wants to learn how to play the violin. Kennedy graduated from his home school high school program on May 30.

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Elizabeth Adams; elizabethadams@uky.edu

 

 

kennedy_plays.jpgkennedy_at_piano.jpgkennedy_dr._desai.jpg
October
 
 
 
1
Internship Info Session
LNFS Presents: Dallas Buyers Club
College of Law Welcomes Trevor Potter
Wed
2
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: Notes on Marie Menken
LNFS Presents: Edge of Tomorrow
UK Jazz Ensemble/ UK Lab Band
Earth & Environmental Science Student Open House
"Nerd Night" Exhibit and Concert
"Anne Braden: Southern Patriot" Film Screening and Discussion
Thu
3
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: My Neighbor Totoro
LNFS Presents: (500) Days of Summer
Men's Soccer vs. Old Dominion
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Alabama
Fri
4
Dancing at Lughnasa
Kentucky Football vs. South Carolina
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Rock Climbing @ Red River Gorge
Cross Cultural Workshop 2014
Swing Dancing!
Sat
5
Dancing at Lughnasa
Cross Cultural Workshop 2014
UK Children's Hospital/Birthing Center Annual Perinatal Loss "Walk To Remember"
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Texas A&M
Sun
6
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
Resumes and Cover Letters
Mon
7
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
Networking and Job Search
UK Choristers
Rock Star Professionalism Series
Stillness in Motion: The Essence of Symmetry - presented by Dr. Carl Lee, Mathematics
Tue
8
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
LNFS Presents: Night of the Living Dead
UK Law Day
Wed
9
Dancing at Lughnasa
Murals of Baltimore
LNFS Presents: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Mark Berry, Guest Percussion Recital
National Depression Screening Day
LNFS Presents: Torch Song Trilogy
Thu
10
Dancing at Lughnasa
LNFS Presents: Shut Up and Play the Hits
LNFS Presents: Watchmen
KLJ Data Privacy Symposium
Family Weekend Check-in
Big Blue Pantry Food Drive #1
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. South Carolina
Family Weekend: Derek Hughes
Fri
11
Dancing at Lughnasa
Kentucky Football vs. ULM
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
UK International Tent/ Tailgate Party
CT Surgery Symposium: Advances in the Surgical Management of Cardiothoracic Diseases:
Family Weekend Tent Party
Sat
12
Dancing at Lughnasa
DNT 101: A Taste of the Kentucky Doughnut Trail
Big Blue Pantry Food Drive #2
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Auburn
Sunday Lunch at Historic Spindletop Hall
Men's Soccer vs. Marshall
Sun
13
 
Mon
14
Job Club - Social Media and Your Career
Massage on the Go
Tue
15
LNFS Presents: The Last Samurai
UK Symphony Band Concert
Women's Forum Conference 2014
#TrendingTopics: Pornography vs. Morality
Wed
16
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: The Tree of Life
LNFS Presents: Guardians of the Galaxy
UK Wind Symphony
Thu
17
LNFS Presents: Princess Mononoke
LNFS Presents: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Ole Miss
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
Fri
18
Paint the Town Blue
Free Kaplan Entrance Practice Exams
4th Annual Big Blue Soccer Tournament
Men's Soccer vs. New Mexico
Swing Dancing and Costumes?
Sat
19
Paint the Town Blue
UK Men's Chorus and acoUstiKats
Jazz Spectacular
UK Student Pajama Party
Kentucky Volleyball vs. LSU
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Florida
Sun
20
Paint the Town Blue
Midterm of 2014 Fall Semester
Returning to Work and Breastfeeding
Open Access Week Kickoff Event (Webcast)
Grad School 101
Royalty Showcase
Mon
21
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week: Preparing for Law School
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week: Grad School Panel: Surviving Your 1st Year
Film & Panel Discussion: Be Like Others
Graduate and Professional School Showcase
Your Publication, Your Choice: Choosing the Right Open Access Journal
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week
Graduate and Professional School Prep Week
Kitty Karnival
Tue
22
Study Tips for Medical School
LNFS Presents: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Thank-A-Donor Day
Campus Sustainability Day
Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Information Session
Getting Into Medical School
Wed
23
Writing a Winning Personal Statement
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: Marimbas From Hell
LNFS Presents: The Fault in Our Stars
Generation Open: Researchers' Roles in the Age of Openness
Homecoming Street Fair
Thu
24
LNFS Presents: Kiki's Delivery Service
LNFS Presents: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
"see blue." Day at Keeneland
Peanut Butter Drive
Pumpkin Carving Tournament
Fri
25
Kentucky Football vs. Mississippi State
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Sat
26
UK Women's Choir and Paws and Listen
Bill Cooper Faculty Recital
Sun
27
UK Trumpet Ensemble
Undergraduate Research Information Session "How to Find A Mentor"
Kentucky Men's Basketball Blue/White Scrimmage
Mon
28
Job Club - How To Get A Job at UK: Updates on IES Applicant Tracking System
Common Reading Experience Author Lecture: Presenting Ishmael Beah
Tue
29
Internship Info Session
LNFS Presents: The Shining
Pinterest Party
Leadership Assessment
"see boo." Halloween Party
Society for the Promotion of Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Meeting
#UKEDTALKS: Design Thinking with Dr. John Nash
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Tennessee
Wed
30
Career Assessment Workshop
LNFS Presents: Lucy
Film Viewing and Discussion of The Other Boleyn Girl
LNFS Presents: Papirosen
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Alabama
Thu
31
LNFS Presents: ParaNorman
LNFS Presents: Carrie
All Hallow's Eve Concert (UK Symphony Orchestra)
Work-Life Retirement Conference
Fri
 
Oct 22
Study Tips for Medical School 10/22/2014
Reset Page