Fact Check

A Brother's Song

Rumor: A dying baby was brought back from the brink by the sound of her brother's singing 'sYou Are My Sunshine.'s

Published Nov 17, 2002


Glurge:   A dying baby was brought back from the brink by the sound of her brother's singing 'You Are My Sunshine.'"


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 1999]

Like any good mother, when Karen found out that another baby was on the way, she did what she could do to help her 3-year-old son, Michael, prepare for a new sibling. They found out that the new baby was going to be a girl, and day after day, night after night, Michael would sing to his sister in Mommy's tummy.

The pregnancy progressed normally for Karen. Then the labor pains came. Every five minutes ... every minute.

But complications arose during delivery. Hours of labor. A C-Section was required. Finally, Michael's little sister was born, but she was in serious condition. With sirens howling in the night, the ambulance rushed the infant to the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Mary's Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The days inched by. The little girl got worse. The pediatric specialist tells the parents, "There is little hope. Be prepared for the worst." Karen and her husband contacted a local cemetery about a burial plot. The had fixed up a special room in their home for the new baby — now they plan a funeral. Michael, kept begging his parent to let him see his sister, "I want to sing to her," he says.

Week two in intensive care. It looked as if a funeral would come before the week was over. Michael keeps nagging about singing to his sister, but kids are never allowed in Intensive Care.

Karen made up her mind. She would take Michael whether they liked it or not. If he didn't see his sister now, he would never see her alive.

She dressed him in an oversized scrub suit and marched him into ICU. He looked like a walking laundry basket, but the head nurse recognized him as a child and bellowed, "Get that kid out of here now! No children are allowed in ICU."

The mother rises up strong in Karen, and the usually mild-mannered lady glares steel-eyed into the head nurse's face, her lips a firm line. "He is not leaving until he sings to his sister!"

Karen tows Michael to his sister's bedside. He gazes at the tiny infant losing the battle to live. And he begins to sing. In the pure-hearted voice of a 3-year-old, Michael

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray —"

Instantly the baby girl responded. The pulse rate became calm and steady.

"You never know, dear, how much I love you, Please don't take my sunshine away —"

The ragged strained breathing became as smooth as a kitten's purr.

"The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping, I dreamed I held you in my arms . . ."

Michael's little sister relaxes as rest, healing rest, seemed to sweep over her. Tears conquered the face of the bossy head nurse. Karen glowed.

"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Please don't take my sunshine away."

Funeral plans were scrapped. The next day, the very next day, the little girl was well enough to go home! Woman's Day magazine called it "the miracle of a brother's song." The medical staff just called it a miracle.


Origins:   This tear-jerking tale began wet hankying its way around the Internet in May 1998, and although it's a touching story about the power of love, the accounts given by the family of the children involved and by hospital staff vary widely about what actually occurred. We'll leave it to others to debate whether songs sung to an unborn infant can have an effect, and instead concentrate on the verifiable datapoints given in the text:

  • The family maintains that their 3-year-old son was prohibited from visiting his sister in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) because "kids are never allowed" into that area. But according to the staff at St. Mary's Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, children are not barred from the NICU at that hospital.
  • The family claims that when they attempted to smuggle their disguised 3-year-old son into the NICU, the head nurse recognized him as a child and bellowed, "Get that kid out of here now! No children are allowed in ICU." But (as noted above) St. Mary's said that they had no rule barring children from visiting the NICU, and that it would be highly out of character for a nurse in St. Mary's Women's Pavilion
    to "bellow" at the mother of a patient.

    An out-of-control screaming little monster might be ejected from the NICU, but there's no reason to a normally-behaved child would have been prevented from visiting an ailing sibling.

  • The family claims their newborn daughter was desperately ill to the point that "It looked as if a funeral would come before the week was over."
    But according to St. Mary's, although the baby in question was indeed born seriously ill (in 1992), her illness was not life-threatening, and both mother and baby left the hospital with a clean bill of health after eight days. St. Mary's said medical records reflected no sudden downturn or upswing (miraculous or otherwise) in the infant's condition, or any reason why a pediatric specialist would have told the parents "There is little hope."
  • Although the baby girl did have an older brother, no one outside the family was able to verify the details about his having sung to his sister, and nobody at St. Mary's knew which members of the medical staff supposedly "just called [the event] a miracle."

The mother of the children in question told us that the version of the story circulated online was inaccurate in some respects, but she didn't elaborate on which parts were untrue:

I know that this version that you have posted is not correct. I do not
know how that one ever got out into the cyber space. Back in 1992, rules
were different than they are today regarding siblings and NICU. Our son
was not going to be allowed into the area where Marlee was, and that is a
fact. She was at "death's door" more than once. She had to have emergemcy
surgery to place a tube in her chest to drain off the air that was
escaping into her abdomen from the tears in her lungs.

Could a little boy have sung a favorite song to his ailing little sister who subsequently recovered from an unspecified illness? It's possible, of course, but at this point nothing exists to substantiate the event other than an much-circulated account that no one can independently verify and includes details that are in question. Could a real event have inspired the current story, and the smuggling in of the brother been inserted by the writer to heighten the drama of the tale? Also possible, but if that is the case, one has to wonder how much of the story is dramatic flourish added by the chronicler and how much is fact. We do know that according to the hospital, the ill child wasn't languishing at death's door and her medical records indicated no radical changes in her condition while she was in care there.

Barbara "sunshine on my overloaded shoulders" Mikkelson

Last updated:   14 May 2015

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