'Singing Doctor' soothes newborns and families at Magee-Womens Hospital
By Kellie B. Gormly
Published: Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
As day-old baby Ava Nicole lies sleeping in her mother's arms, Dr. Carey Andrew-Jaja grins as he leans over their hospital bed to welcome the new life.
“Hey, Ava,” Andrew-Jaja gently greets the baby, the daughter of Michelle McCallister and Matthew Anderson of Hookstown, Beaver County. “This is my song for you. This is my celebration, and it goes something like this.”
The doctor begins to sing Louis Armstrong's happy anthem “What a Wonderful World,” with some lyrics personalized for Ava.
“I hear babies cry, I watch them grow ... And I think to myself, ‘What a wonderful world,'” Andrew-Jaja serenades the baby, who stretches her arms and fingers as if to applaud and seems to crack a little smile in her sleep.
Andrew-Jaja — a Nigerian native who delivers babies at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and has delivered more than 8,000 babies in his 32 years as an OB/GYN — charms patients, husbands, babies and colleagues with his vocals, which have earned him the nickname the “Singing Doctor.”
The physician, whose patients call him Dr. Jaja, sings to newborn babies — those he personally delivers and others — to welcome them to the world and soothe them in the delivery room and later in patient rooms.
He enjoys his vocal hobby by singing solos at his church, Christ Episcopal Church in Ross, and through serving on the board of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. Andrew-Jaja sang for the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale for more than 20 years, and near Christmas, he gathered a group of doctors and nurses to carol in the Magee lobby.
“Everybody has their way of celebrating,” the jolly Andrew-Jaja says after finishing his song to Ava, whose tiny head is crowned with a white bow covered with little hearts. “This is my way of celebrating.”
McCallister, 23, says the singing is “awesome” and a nice treat to get in the hospital. Anderson, 25, says that Andrew-Jaja has a beautiful singing voice.
“I never knew they did stuff like this,” Anderson says.
Andrew-Jaja, 67, of Hampton, divides his time between clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Magee and his office in Franklin Park, while teaching young resident doctors and performing administrative work. He has always loved singing and has been doing it for fun since he was a child in Africa.
One of his attending physicians in the 1970s at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side, where Andrew-Jaja did his residency, inspired him to merge his hobby with his profession. That doctor, Dr. Frank Arch, sang sometimes to the babies he delivered, and Andrew-Jaja says he had a rich, deep, beautiful voice. The two doctors often sang duets together. When Arch retired, he asked his resident to take over his singing tradition.
“I didn't want to village- plunder,” Andrew-Jaja jokes. But he picked up the torch and continued serenading babies, which his patients and co-workers say they enjoy.
“I love Dr. Jaja. We love to hear him sing,” says Magee nurse Jaime Ford, 31, of Wexford. Andrew-Jaja delivered her kids. “They love it — every patient I know.”
In one of Magee's private delivery rooms, Andrew-Jaja visits Debola Ndayikenguruki, 25, and daughter, Dalia, whom he'd delivered that morning. Andrew-Jaja leans over the mom's bed.
“Congratulations. Are you happy?” he asks. “So we're going to celebrate. I think you know the song, and for her, she's going to hear this for many years — hopefully, 100.”
After a big “Ohhhh” introduction, Andrew-Jaja begins to sing “Happy Birthday” to Dalia.
“I'm feeling great,” says Ndayikenguruki, a Burundi native who lives in the Hill District.
Andrew-Jaja — who has three adult children with his wife, Lorna — says he found himself through the singing, which spreads cheer to people around him.
“The things that make me happy afterward are the things I want to do over and over,” he says. “Expressing myself in that way, having brought a little bit of joy ... it all comes around.
“Women give so much to their care,” Andrew-Jaja says. “You have to reciprocate that.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.
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