Program at Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital helps kids cope
by Mike Parks
Kinley keeps her beads on a string with her at all times. The 11 year old carries them around in her special purple flower bag, or leaves the bag on the table beside her bed. Either way, it’s never far out of reach.
It’s the same for many of the kids at the Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital. They’re in an unfamiliar place – or, for some, an all-too-familiar place – and don’t have a whole lot to hold onto that’s theirs. To combat those negative feelings the hospital signed up with Beads of Courage, a program that gives kids a bead for every treatment they’ve been given.
“It’s a really nice visual representation of everything they have to go through,” said Rebecca Brooks, a child life specialist for the hospital. “People who aren’t in the hospital or haven’t gone through such a treatment can have an idea in their head (of what it’s like), but to see 42 yellow beads for staying nights in the hospital … to actually see it in a way that makes it visual and easily understood has a big impact on people.”
There’s a bead for almost anything a kid has to go through. There are beige beads for bone marrow aspiration; white beads for chemotherapy or immunizations. Special glow-in-the-dark beads represent radiation treatment. Kids obviously don’t want to earn more beads, cause the more beads you get, the longer you’ve had to stay. But they’re proud nonetheless of the badge of honor they’ve earned.
Ask Kinley about what colors she has earned while fighting her brain tumor, and she’ll tell you she’s pretty much got all of them. A lime green one for home bed-rest or isolation. A few square rainbow beads for a visit from a care team. Red for a blood transfusion. Blue for clinical visits. They’re all strung together around six blocks spelling “Kinley,” and she shows it off to the friends she meets in the hospital, and they show theirs to her.
Kinley’s been in the hospital for about four weeks now, on and off, and she hoped to head back home this week.
“It lets patients connect with other patients, like two kids in the playroom with strands of beads they can compare and connect and show them they do have commonalities with others so they see they aren’t the only ones going through this,” Brooks said. “…Kids come in and say ‘Yesterday was a really hard day, but I earned four beads!”
“It’s something tangible,” added Elizabeth Gray, the hospital’s child life coordinator. When patients finish their treatment, they don’t always have something to show “what they had to live through,” Gray said. “This is concrete proof that they were able to do this.”
Beads of Courage is a national program, though Presbyterian is the only hospital taking part in the Charlotte area. Hospital staff was looking for a program to help children through their treatment when they learned of Beads for Courage, and thought it was the perfect fit, especially after hearing stories about children who went on to wear their beads at college graduation, or on their wedding day, or use the strands to decorate their Christmas tree.
Find more information on the program at its website, www.beadsofcourage.org.