Matt Cwiertny died of cancer four years ago, but on Thursday, his family gave him another chance to tell people what music to listen to.
Songs by some of his favorite musicians, including The 88—an indie band that once donned hospital gowns, masks and rubber gloves to play for Cwiertny as he underwent treatment—are pre-loaded onto iPods being donated to patients at UCLA's Daltrey/Townshend Teen & Young Adult Cancer Programs in Santa Monica and Westwood.
The Matt's Mixed Tape program launched Thursday in Santa Monica on what would have been his 28th birthday.
"His spirit is living on," said Christine Cwiertny, his sister.
She runs the Matt Cwiertny Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit the family established to raise money for EBV research and to improve the quality of life for patients between the ages of 15 and 25, because most hospitals are either geared for adults or for children.
The Cwiertny family stumbled upon UCLA in its search for a medical center that focused on the in-between population. They aim to eventually expand the mixed tape program across Southern California so "at some point, no teen or young adult will be left out," said Christine.
"I never got a chance to meet [Matt], but I love looking at his pictures," said Jackie Casillas, a pediatric oncologist who heads UCLA's teen and young adult cancer program. "I see.. the healing power of music and the important impact that that it made in Matt's cancer journey."
Matt was glued to his iPod, his family said, and idolized musicians. He was determined to marry Avril Lavigne, one of the artists who donated tracks for the mixed "tapes." Other bands include Gym Class Heroes, Cobra Starship, Matt Costa and Matt Nathanson.
Studies published in the past few years have found listening to music while undergoing chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants and other cancer treatments can lessen pain, nausea and stress.
"He lived in and breathed it, every day was about music," said Matt's older brother Eric Cwiertny. "We're trying to build this play list with hours, days worth of music so [patients] can listen to it, take their minds off of what they're going through."