89-year-old continues holiday tradition of playing ukulele for Mass. hospital patients

PHOTO: Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. for at least 14 holiday seasons.
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WATCH 89-year-old continues holiday tradition of playing ukulele for Mass. hospital patients

An 89-year-old Massachusetts man is continuing his own Christmas tradition of spreading holiday cheer by playing his ukulele for patients at a local hospital for another year.

Thomas Ruggles has been playing his baritone ukulele at Emerson Hospital in Concord for at least 15 years, he said in a video released by the hospital.

Ruggles can be seen serenading patients in their hospital beds with his own rendition of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" to the hardworking nurses while dressed festively in a red vest, white trousers and a Santa hat.

"Beautiful. Love it," one thankful patient told Ruggles. "Thank you so much, Tom. I appreciate it."

PHOTO: Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. for at least 14 holiday seasons. Emerson Hospital
Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. for at least 14 holiday seasons.

Ruggles plays at the hospital year-round and often receives fanfare and hugs from staff upon his arrival, ABC Boston affiliate WCVB reported.

For one post-operative patient named David, Ruggles sang a personalized version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," inserting David's name into the first and last phrases of the song.

"A lot of them love it," Ruggles told WCVB. "A lot of them say, 'You just made my day.'"

Ruggles said some of the patients even sing along with him.

"The patients could be having an awful day, and he walks in the room, and he sings them a song, and it just brightens them up," one nurse told WCVB. "They smile. Even the staff. It's great."

PHOTO: Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., for at least 14 holiday seasons. Emerson Hospital
Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., for at least 14 holiday seasons.

Volunteers are an "integral part" of Emerson Hospital, which focuses on "providing patients with the highest quality medical care with compassion," Leah Lesser, Emerson Hospital's public relations manager, told ABC News.

The volunteer program contains hundreds of participants, all of whom "bring something and really meaningful" to the program, Lesser said. Some knit hats for newborns, while others tell jokes or bring certified therapy dogs to visit patients, Lesser said.

"Tom definitely has a certain magic when it comes to singing and really uplifting the spirits of our patients," Lesser said. "He's one great example of our volunteers."

When Ruggles first came to interview at the hospital with the director of the volunteer program in 1999, he brought his trusty ukulele with him, WCVB reported.

"I said, 'I want to do something to give back,'" Ruggles recalled. He then told the director of his desire to play music for the patients, and the rest is history. He began singing to patients that same day, according to WCVB.

"Emerson volunteer Tom Ruggles never fails to bring a smile to the faces of our patients, visitors, and staff through singing and playing the ukulele!" Emerson Hospital wrote on Facebook.

Ruggles said that while people think he volunteers for the patients, "it is more nourishing for the guy that's delivering the song." He has no plans to put an end to the Christmas tradition any time soon.

"I love doing it," he said. "I've been doing it 14, 15 years, and I'll do it 14, 15 more, if God permits."

PHOTO: Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. for at least 14 holiday seasons.
Emerson Hospital
Tom Ruggles, 89, has been singing and playing his ukulele to patients at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass. for at least 14 holiday seasons.

Lesser said patients' "eyes light up" when Tom sings to them.

"For a couple of moments, they can forget about their pain," she said.

Joy Walsh, a speech therapist at Emerson Hospital, told WCVB that "music, and in particular, singing, can have profound effects" on heart rate, blood pressure, pain and respiratory rate.

"Music is medicine, and it really is," Ruggles told WCVB. "You know, you can't be unhappy with people when you're playing a song."

And Ruggles doesn't save his ukulele-playing skills solely for the holiday season. While ABC News could not immediately reach him for comment, his home answering machine featured a made-up song accompanied by the instrument.

"You have reached T.M.R. He is not very far," Ruggles sings on his answering machine greeting. "Leave your name, number too, and he will get back to you."

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