Surgeon Plays A Classical Interlude and Lowers Vital Signs In The Operating Room

As seen in the Spring 2013 edition of the Steinway Chronicle.

Eight years ago, a Honolulu eye doctor surprised the surgical staff at St. Francis Medical Center when he brought a piano into the operating room. But Dr. Jorge G. Camara was combining his passion for music with steadfast purpose.

As his hands graced over the keys playing Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1, Chopin’s Etude in E Major, and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, researchers were quietly monitoring a select group of patients. They discovered what Dr. Camara suspected: 115 showed a statistically significant decrease in their blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate after listening to his chosen repertoire compared to 88 whose vital signs increased prior to surgery when they were not exposed to the music.

The end result was “Live from the Operating Room,” which he believes is the first piano CD scientifically proven to lower vital signs of patients undergoing surgery. According to Dr. Camara, music has the potential to decrease stress hormones released during surgery, lessen pain and relieve anxiety. It also reduces the need for painkillers and sedatives.

Laurie McKeon shared her unique experience in vivid detail:

“In the operating room, Dr. Camara greeted me with a smile and then sat down to play. Right there in the room while others poured blurry thick drops into my eyes, I could feel his energy at the keyboard. It felt like he too was relaxing and focusing, preparing for the delicate operation that he would soon be performing. The music soared above me, swirled around me. It penetrated through my pores, beyond my ears, past my mind and somehow, into my heart. I felt at peace. I felt safe. I felt like everything was going to be just fine. And it was.”

Born in Ann Arbor, Mi., Dr. Camara grew up in Manila and studied medicine at the University of the Philippines. He moved to Houston and completed his training in ophthalmology at Baylor College of Medicine Cullen Eye Institute and a post-residency fellowship in Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, also at Baylor.

On top of groundbreaking efforts to marry music with medicine, Dr. Camara is widely recognized for his work with the Aloha Medical Mission, now in its 30th year of providing free health care throughout Hawaii and Southeast Asia. To date, the mission has treated more than 250,000 people. “It’s gratifying to be able to provide the gift of eyesight to someone who otherwise would have no access to medical care, let alone specialized surgical care,” he said.

For self-therapy and a respite from his busy practice, Dr. Camara spends at least two hours a day playing at home on his Steinway Model B. “It has been tuned to my standard of perfection and in my living room, surrounded by bamboo wood flooring and a high wood ceiling, it sounds magnificent. I can hear and feel the nuances of every note, every measure, and every phrase of the various composers whose music I play but with a marked preference for the works of J.S. Bach, Chopin, Debussy and Beethoven.”

Touching the lives of so many people as a surgeon, pianist and humanitarian, Dr. Camara expects his Steinway will be a constant musical voice along what continues to be an amazing journey through life.

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