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Small Beads, Big Victories

A colorful way to mark a burn survivor’s journey

Child life specialists at Shriners Children’s Ohio use a colorful method for patients to mark their milestones on their burn recovery journey.

Each child who spends significant time in the hospital receives “journey beads.” Each bauble represents a different surgery, procedure or goal the child accomplished during their hospital stay.

“We wanted to honor the recovery path our patients are traveling with a visible representation of their experience,” explained Michelle Smith, child life specialist. “Every patient’s journey starts with the same bead: a red heart to welcome them to the Shriners Children’s family.”

There are dozens of different colored and shaped beads to mark each accomplishment.

The star-shaped beads represent different procedures for radiology, sutures, and facemask or pressure garment fitting. Some beads are given when a patient reaches a recovery milestone, such as a nutritional or medical goal. There are also larger beads for developmental or emotional goals. For example, a child can earn a bead for an act of courage, celebrating a birthday or holiday in the hospital, or to mark their first successful outing away from the hospital unit.

“We intentionally selected a variety of accomplishments, because that truly represents the comprehensive, multidisciplinary care patients experience during their hospital stay,” said Sarah O’Neal, a child life specialist with the hospital.

When the child is ready to be discharged from the hospital, Michelle and Sarah carefully arrange the beads into a vibrant, colorful heart before presenting them to the patient and their family.

“It’s a really emotional moment when a child and their family see their collection of beads, sometimes hundreds of them, grouped together,” O’Neal said.

“One surgery or dressing change by itself may seem insignificant, just as one single bead is small and easy to overlook,” Smith said. “But taken together, it represents the determination, fortitude and strength of their healing story.