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Songs of Love

Singers make Valentine's Day bright for chemotherapy patients Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Four tuxedo-clad men harmonizing to "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" may be an unusual sight for a medical office, but for staff and patients at Kaiser Permanente Fair Oaks Medical Center, it is a Valentine's Day tradition. Every year on Feb. 14, Alexandria-based barbershop quartet Four from the Heart visits chemotherapy patients in the oncology unit, singing love songs and handing out chocolates and roses.

Bruce Lugn, the husband of a former patient at Kaiser Permanente Fair Oaks, began the tradition. Lugn said In 2000, he realized that one of wife Teresa Wilk's chemotherapy treatments was scheduled for Valentine's Day, so he had the quartet come and sing during her appointment. After she died, Lugn began sending the quartet to sing in the oncology unit each year in her honor.

"It's a way of paying back," said Lugn. "The Kaiser staff was so good and generous with time and comfort for both my late wife and I while she was in treatment."

THE TRADITION has special meaning for the singers as well, said quartet member Alan Wile. Wile's first wife died of cancer, he said, and he has battled prostate cancer as well.

"It's obviously a very meaningful experience, being able to come sing for this group," said Wile. "This is a difficult time for people, and it's hard to know how to cheer people living on hope and trusting in doctors. It's one of the things we can do."

The Valentine's Day performance at the oncology unit is one of the highlights of the year, he said.

The week of Feb. 14 is always a busy one for Four from the Heart, said singer Joe Walgovich.

"We go various places like real estate offices, schools, private homes," said Walgovich, who began singing in barbershop quartets in Hawaii over 20 years ago and has sung all over the country. "But this is a place we really feel truly honored to be in."

At its heart, barbershop singing is all about sharing music, said Walgovich.

Patient Skip Gallagher agreed. "It's great," he said. "It's a thanks to all the people who go out of their way to help here." The Springfield resident said he especially appreciated the Irish tunes because of his Irish heritage.

Gallagher's recovery from pancreatic cancer has been a series of "little miracles," said wife Joan Gallagher. He underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins hospital six months ago for a large tumor. The surgery was successful, said Skip Gallagher, and his chemotherapy and radiation treatments have been going well, too. This spring, he said, he will take a trip to Dublin with wife Joan and their daughter, who provided a great deal of support during Gallagher's hospitalization and treatment.

The Gallaghers' plans for the rest of the day included lunch and maybe even dinner.

"It's a good Valentine's Day for us," Joan Gallagher said.

— Lea Mae Rice