Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital
A series of losses, including the death of her father, during Melody Cunningham’s childhood taught her the definition of compassion and the depth of the human experience. As a pediatric palliative care and hematology/oncology physician and medical director of Threads of Care, the palliative care program at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Melody treasures every individual she comes in contact with.
A winding path of jobs and experiences led her to oncology, where compassionate mentors taught her a powerful distinction: to look at medical relationships as human relationships.
“I teach our medical students, residents and fellows that it’s OK to be human, to make mistakes and to say we’re sorry. As caregivers, we can laugh with families and we can cry with families,” says Melody.
“Melody’s character shines through her every action and her kindness is immeasurable. Her compassion for treating the whole family can not be put into words.”
Caring for her team is just as important as caring for her patients. Melody often arranges for her team to gather at her house to prepare food for the week, drops off food at team members’ homes when she knows they’ve had a difficult week, and has also been known to provide free babysitting services for colleagues. An active participant of the Schwartz Center Rounds® program, Melody emphasizes that it’s important for caregivers to remember they are human and to take the time needed to process thoughts and emotions.
Together, Melody and her team work to make sure families feel like they always have a safety net. With a 24/7 phone line, caregivers are never out of reach.
“Throughout our son’s illness, Melody was available, day or night, to answer questions and provide comfort. Melody became our friend, caregiver, confidant and biggest advocate during the darkest period of our lives,” says a former patient’s mother.
Melody approaches her practice with listening ears and an empathizing heart. She often wears a bracelet with a pair of moccasins on it, which reminds her to step into the other person’s shoes and picture their journey from their perspective. Melody believes that listening to patients and understanding their point of view and how they define quality of life is integral to the healing process.
“Melody hugged us, cried with us, laughed and celebrated milestones over the course of our daughter’s illness,” says a former patient’s mother. “With Melody by our side, we never felt alone or incapable of caring for our daughter.”