Brian Dooks MUSIC played a big part in the short life of little Jessica George. Now – almost 11 years after her death from a brain tumour – a music therapy charity set up in her memory is equally important to other children.
Jessie's Fund was established by professional musicians Lesley Schatzberger and her husband Alan George, whose daughter Jessica died at the age of nine in 1994 at Martin House Children's Hospice at Boston Spa, near Wetherby.
A few months earlier at their home in York she had asked her mother, who is principal clarinetist with John Eliot Gardiner's English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique: "How old do I have to be before I'm in a professional orchestra?"
She said: "This may seem an unusually focused ambition for a nine-year-old child, but music had always played a big part in Jessie's life. The child of two professional musicians, she had not only been exposed to live music-making from her very beginnings, but had also frequently accompanied us on overseas tours with her sister, Hannah.
"Thus it was that our younger daughter contemplated a life steeped in music."
But it was not to be. Although Jessica learned to play the violin and piano, three weeks after her ninth birthday she began to complain to her mother and father, Alan George of The Fitzwilliam String Quartet, that she was seeing double.
Then her balance became unsteady. At first she was diagnosed with an ear infection but after a second visit to her GP she was sent straight to Leeds General Infirmary, where an inoperable brain stem tumour was found.
Within a week Jessica started a twice-a-day, 23-day course of radiotherapy and on the advice of an American specialist she began eating as pure a diet as the family could provide, as well as 28 vitamin and mineral supplements a day. During a few days' holiday in the Lake District she seemed almost back to normal.
Her mother said: "Then in the middle of a beautiful walk in the hills she suddenly went quiet and then said: 'I feel wobbly again'. My heart sank: we knew that when the tumour recurred there would be no more conventional treatment – she had already had the maximum radiation possible and chemotherapy was not an option.
"So rapid and savage was her deterioration from this point that just two weeks later – by which time she was paralysed on her left side and could barely speak – we arrived at Martin House Children's Hospice."
Jessica loved Martin House, but her family found there was no creative music-making.
Her mother said: "I felt sure that music could offer the children a uniquely val-uable form of self expression and enjoyment, however complex their medical needs."
By coincidence a nurse at Martin House, Cathy Ibbertson, was at the point of qualifying as a music therapist, but there were no instrum-ents there. They were bought and three months after Jessica's death charitable status was obtained for Jessie's Fund. It began with 15,000 but last year gave 140,000 to provide music therapy in children's hospices across the UK.
Lesley Schatzberger, whose elder daughter Hannah is now 22 and son Jacob nine, spends 80 per cent of her time running the charity and she and 11 music therapists have contributed to a book to share their knowledge and experience. Music Therapy in Children's Hospices, Jessie's Fund in Action is published by Jessica Kingsley on February 24 .
While Jessica was having radiotherapy, she wrote:
I will fight my bloomin' blob
I'll fight it away and away
I will fight it till it's gone
I'll fight it till the great day.
Sadly, three days after struggling to help one of her care team to bake a cake as a surprise for her family and decorating it with sweets which she had chosen at the village shop, Jessica died on May 6, 1994. Her memory lives on in Jessie's Fund.
The charity, which now has 300 Friends of Jessie's Fund, operates from 10 Bootham Terrace, York, YO30 7DH and its website is: www.jessiesfund.org.uk