How did you get the idea for Beads of Courage?
I piloted the program at the Children's Hospital in Phoenix as part of my doctoral dissertation for my Ph.D. in nursing at the UA. But really it came from my personal interest as a nurse. I'm a pediatric nurse and just saw a need for it when I saw children getting treatment for cancer. We know from research that many children struggle at the completion of their treatment because they don't have anything tangible to show for all that they have been through. One would think that they'd be happy for it to be over and be able to move on. But they felt sad--they were seeking something tangible to show for all that they had accomplished and challenges overcome during treatment.
The children get different kinds of beads, but why beads?
As a camp nurse I noticed that one of the most favorite activities seemed to be beading. I was working at one of (actor) Paul Newman's camps in Ireland. The kids loved the beads. I started doing some research, and discovered the bead museum in Glendale, Ariz., and talked to their museum educator. Beads historically have been used by humans as symbols of accomplishment and honor. It's a really great fit for how we use beads. They are also the oldest art form known to humans.
How does the program work in the hospitals?
We provide them with all the materials and go to their hospital, myself or a program director, to train their staff on how the program works, and give them that needed education from a research perspective that shows them the evidence of how this helps the children with coping and self-esteem as a resilience-based intervention.
We have a bead guide that drives the program and helps everyone understand how it works. When a kid has a blood transfusion they get a red bead, for chemotherapy they get a white bead. There are 18 different procedures listed in the bead guide. The guide itself was developed in collaboration with nurses across the United States. Every time a kid gets poked by a needle they get a black bead. Every time they have surgery they get a star bead.
As they progress in their treatment what do you think happens with their beads?
Their beads really become their voice. On average they will have 500 beads to show at the completion of their treatment. When someone sees this they really have to stop and take notice. What we find is that kids who receive the program finally feel like they are being honored and people have acknowledged what they went through. One child actually said, "Look, I've been through war and back, and if I went to war I would have gotten a purple heart." The children are seeking sources of acknowledgment, and Beads of Courage provides them with mini badges of honor.
How many hospitals is the program in?
Since we started at that first hospital in Phoenix in 2004 we grew to 10 hospitals that first year. We've now grown the past five years to 50 hospitals, including one in Japan and another in New Zealand. We are a Tucson-original charity that now provides support for children coping with serious illness internationally.