Mircea Ștefan Stănescu and his wife

There are thousands of people walking at Duke University Hospital. Mircea Ștefan Stănescu is a Romanian volunteer who has become the best musician who’s ever performed at Duke. Despite the cultural differences, music can be this thing that we can all connect with, especially when it helps patients relieve their stress. After his wife died of a lung disease, he found his calling to perform music for other patients. 

Stephen is 81 years old and he is a volunteer player at Duke University Hospital. When Stephen introduced himself, it was a very formal email, very regal and old school. He sent his CV, which was from many decades ago and he had a PhD in engineering. He has written papers and he has six patents and all these titles were sent to me with a copy of his degree from Transylvania and a translation of it. When William Dawson, Performing Arts Coordinator of Duke met him for the first time, he thought who is this guy trying to become a volunteer at the hospital? 

“I’m from the city of Brașov in Transylvania, Romania. I was seven years old when I started to play piano. At the beginning, I was really reluctant, but after three years I started to like it and it was for the rest of my life. I met my wife. She was a neighbor. They came with a flower. I asked her to be my wife, and on March 2nd, 1963 we got married. We had our first daughter.

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The Romanian pianist, Stefan Stanescu, volunteers 280 hours per year at the Duke Cancer Center and Duke North. He plays piano for hospital patients and employees is a privilege. Listen to the 81-year old man who performs and helping other people!

Posted by HORA in America on Sunday, September 22, 2019

In Brasov, in my inactive town, you didn’t have too much liberty, to do what you want to do, and you always had to control what you say. They wanted to make me a member of the Communist Party but I didn’t want to become a member of this party. I thought about the day when I would have an opportunity to go to the West. I wanted to go to the United States. On July 6th, 1970 we came to JFK airport”, says Stephen. 

They have two daughters. The first one became an engineer. The other one works in financing. Stephen feels good because they are very happy. “My wife, she was a remarkable human being, very intelligent. She was a good engineer too. She retired at 55 to be a good grandmother.  She didn’t have any treatment, no medication for it. That was the tragedy in the family. 

Mircea Ștefan Stănescu

MELAS is also called Mitochondrial Encephalopathy, Lactic acidosis, and Stroke-like episodes. The stroke episodes, in general, are a ProQuest type of disorder. It is always transmitted from the mother and almost always can be passed down to future offspring with potentially little or less mutations. Some carry more. Eventually, everyone will develop some type of symptoms. That’s quite a lot of stress for sure. When we identify the first case in the family. 

Dr. Junk diagnosed my wife in 2013 and told her that she would have another two years to live. I took care of her. She was completely paralyzed. It was very difficult. I can’t find the words but I tried my best to get accustomed to her condition and tried my best to help. I tried to keep my composure when my wife got sick. She didn’t read very much and she pushed me to do it. She passed away in October 2015 for my second daughter. It started at 42 years old. 

Mr. Robbins  required a lot of assistance at home. She lost her speech and her cognitive ability.. Her husband did a wonderful job and Stefan came to the clinic all the time. “Every time. I’m very, very impressed by his securement, so loving and knowledgeable to help the whole family,” says William Dawson. 

Doctors say he has had a lot of loss and that he carries that empathy and that reflection with him when he plays a piano for other people. He’s the best musician who’s ever performed at Duke University Hospital. “He takes the schedule very seriously. He acts like it’s his job and I’m not paying him anything to do this. I added up his hours. He volunteered over 300 hours in one year playing the piano. It’s amazing. Six to 800 people an hour walk by the piano. Six to 800 people is like a sold out show at the cat’s cradle, so you’re playing a sold out show, one person at a time. Stefan is probably the most listened to musician on the Duke university campus,” added William Dawson.

He is scheduled to play every Monday at 12 pm in  the hospital and another couple of hours at the cancer center. “The rest of the week I have windows which I could come and play and they told me that they appreciate my music. I was really very happy, most interest. It’s taken by my originals compositions. I was surprised,” added Stephen. 

Mircea Ștefan Stănescu at Duke University

When you compose a piece of music, it is inspired by your real feelings, it’s a special thing. He’s got some of that old school Europe in it. It’s a little minor key. They sound like some of the pain and the struggles that he’s gone through. “There’s a story and it asks for some attention, but it’s not a sad story. He’s not using it as an excuse or a crutch when you hear him performing his original pieces. It’s just hopeful and it has class. He’s a great father. He’s a great friend. He’s a great volunteer. I look up to him. I want to be just like staffing 50 years if I can be,” William Dawson says. 

Stephen tries to forget about what is pain. He has good medicine and also some kind of a payment. Stefan sees Duke as an extension of his family. He is a part of this team by playing music for other patients. Everyone loves having him at this University. 

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