Beads of Courage A tribute to choldren’s achievement
Beads of Courage is an extraordinary arts-inmedicine programme in which sick children are given beads to symbolically represent significant moments in their treatment. Over time, children build up a collection of beads that they can hold when they are scared, tell stories with when they are well again or simply play with when they are sick.
It sounds like a simple idea but the effects are profound. There are beads for every medical intervention (dressing change, tube or line placements, chemotherapy session), overnight hospital stay, care team visit or transfer to the paediatric intensive care unit. Some children build up thousands of beads during their illness. “One boy very proudly told me that his beads [when stretched out] ran from the front of his house to the back of his house,” says Mary Claire Rennick from the Childhood Cancer Foundation, which funds the Beads of Courage programme at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital. The children keep a log of their beads in a daily bead journal so they can request new beads from the play specialist.
Majella Donaghey, mother of Jack Donaghey (7), who recently finished three years of treatment for leukemia, says the Beads of Courage were a great support for Jack. “He loved taking them out, counting them and showing them to his grandparents and aunts. He explained to people what each bead was for as if to say ‘look at all I’ve been through and how brave I’ve been’.”
The Beads of Courage programme was founded by Jean Baruch, a cancer nurse in Tucson, Arizona, and is now administered in more than 170 hospitals in the United States and more than 100 hospitals in Britain. Beads of Courage are given to children coping with cancer, blood disorders, burn injuries, chronic illnesses and families who have an infant in a neonatal intensive-care unit.
The Beads of Courage programme for children with cancer has been running in Our Lady’s since January 2016. There are more than 270 children with cancer currently enrolled on the programme.
The staff in St John’s Ward are full of praise for the programme. “It’s a tangible narrative of the children’s experience and a commemoration of their achievement,” says Dr Capra.
Rennick says “children sometimes bring the beads to school to explain to their classmates what happened. And some parents go back through the beads with their children who were too young to realise what they were going through at the time.”
Rennick adds that parents who lose a child to cancer also get great solace from the beads, often putting them away and taking them out again to show siblings at a later stage.