Bravery Beads at Children's Hospital

Without fear, there cannot be courage. – Christopher Paolini

Joel McKeown with his Bravery BeadsMost children have to overcome the fear of what goes bump in the night, but some patients at Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre must face a different breed of Boogeyman. Every day, there are young boys and girls who receive life-altering diagnoses, are poked, analyzed, and undergo painful treatments while fighting for their lives. These children, and the loved ones who fight alongside them, are the definition of brave, and Children’s Hospital helps them celebrate their courage with Bravery Beads. The necklace and each bead the kids receive validate the many challenges that children with cancer and chronic illnesses go through on their journeys to wellness. 

Kyle and Joel McKeown, twin boys; their sister, Laura; and parents, Sharlene and Bill, are one example of a family at Children’s who exemplifies the courage it takes to cope with paediatric illness. Joel and Kyle were born prematurely and have struggled with a variety of troubling conditions ever since. Kyle McKeown with his Bravery BeadsSharlene has watched her twin boys choke on food, aspirate and suffer through extreme cases of pneumonia, as well as the early onset of colitis. Unfortunately, the complexity of their symptoms has made it difficult for doctors to provide a definitive diagnosis, which has made their long journey seem even more gruelling. “Just when you think it’s going to end, you get more requests for more blood work,” Sharlene explains.

On top of their life-threatening symptoms and diagnostic complexity, the boys often have trouble expressing their feelings about their treatments. In the past, this has made appointments – especially those that include “pokes” – nightmarish. The brave mom of three knows that these appointments and blood tests are necessary to help her family fight back against this anonymous ghoul. However, looking into your child’s eyes as they scream in fear is something that no loving parent should ever have to go through.

For the McKeowns, their Bravery Beads are a tribute to their hard fought journey. They are a reminder of how far they have come, and that they are one step closer to leading a life with less fear and less pain. These funky, colourful beads are a nonverbal way that Kyle and Joel’s Children’s team can recognize their struggle and their strength.

“You feel like it’s not real sometimes – especially because we don’t have a diagnosis: When I see all of their Bravery Beads, I go back to the amount of pokes they’ve had and I’m thankful that someone has kept track of what we’ve gone through,” - Charlene shares.

Laura McKeown with his Bravery BeadsThese beads of honour are well deserved by Bill and Sharlene's boys, but their daughter, Laura, has definitely earned her necklace too. Even though Laura, who is now in grade two, is only 20 months older than her twin brothers, she has been by their side through many scares. During one trip to the Emergency Room, her brothers were really frightened and so they began to scream. To comfort them, Laura got the boys their favourite – and most well loved – blue baby blanket. Kyle and Joel’s big sister got a bead for her selfless act of cradling the boys in the “yucky” blanket she swore she would never, ever touch.

“Once Laura got the Bravery Bead, she thought that was so awesome. She finally got to be a part of it: Everything has always been about the boys, but now she gets her very own special beads. I love talking about that with her,” proud mom, Sharlene, shares.

Like all parents, Sharlene explains that her and her husband just want the best for her kids. They are so thankful that Child Life programs like Bravery Beads help make bad experiences a little better. No one can know for sure what the future will hold for Kyle and Joel, but programs like Bravery Beads mark milestones and give meaning to each element of their care journey. One day, when the boys have to bear less prods and pokes, they will still have their Bravery Beads to wear proudly and speak to the tough experiences that otherwise they may never have been able to articulate.

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