How Musicians Made a Baby Boy Smile on the Last Day of His Life

The Harvey family is remembering a moment of beauty in the final hours of their son's short life.

New Year's Day 2018 marks two years since the Harvey family lost their infant son, JR.

But as the anniversary approaches, the family is remembering a moment of beauty in the final hours of his life.

That New Year's Eve, as JR's health declined, a group of musicians came to his Charlottesville, Va., hospital room to put a smile on his face. 

“We stood at the doorway and asked if they wanted some music," said Jenny Heitler-Klevans, the band director for Pickleberry Pie: Hospital Concerts for Kids. "And they said yes. So we sang a bunch of songs and it was clear that something really incredible was going on.”

JR, who was born with a serious heart condition, was waiting for a heart transplant in the pediatric intensive care unit of the hospital. But when the music began, the 11-month-old boy cracked a smile.

“It's just this amazing moment where... the hospital fades into the background, all of the other stress that's going on,” his mother, Jennifer Harvey, told “My son actually smiled at the end of one of the songs and it was one of the last smiles—in fact, I do believe the last smile—that he ever gave, because he did pass away in the early hours of New Year’s Day, so not even 24 hours later he was gone.”

Jennifer Harvey said that her son was in the hospital for most of 2015 and had several open heart surgeries during his short life. 

“When you basically become a citizen of the hospital... there’s very little that feels like not hospital. So gifts like music are amazing. It transforms where you’re at and what’s going on. There is a transcendent quality. It’s very healing," she said. 

"We received this gift, this moment, that we get to hold on to forever. It’s truly one of the last good memories I have of my son with my family involved. We didn’t know [the musicians] were coming, they just showed up, and we didn’t know how much we needed it. And we wouldn’t even know until later how important that moment was because things were so critical.”

Heitler-Klevans says its Pickleberry Pie's mission to entertain children and their families. 

The music is for "brightening spirits and bringing joy and laughter to kids and families who are going through a difficult time," she said.

And for the Harveys, that's exactly what it did.