Beads of Courage program at Brenner honors memory of Kate Thornton
Eleven-year-old Rima Boulos wears a big smile on her face, just like Kate Thornton did.
Rima has battled leukemia courageously, just like Kate did.
Rima, who lives in Advance, is in remission. Kate, who lived in Thomasville, died two years ago, at the age of 5.
Today, though, there’s a unique thread – a string of beads, actually – that binds the two girls.
The beads are part of a national program called Beads of Courage, a nonprofit organization that gives children with cancer and hematologic disorders beads that symbolize different stages of their treatment. And the program exists at Brenner Children’s Hospital – where Rima received treatment – because of Kate.
“The Beads of Courage program was something Kate received when she was a patient at Duke (University Medical Center),” says Kat Manzella, Kate’s godmother. “When she was coming home and we thought she was going to be at Brenner, she said, ‘What am I gonna do at Brenner? They don’t have Beads of Courage.’ And I said, ‘Don’t you worry – we’re gonna get you Beads of Courage at Brenner.’ ”
It didn’t happen, though. Kate’s cancer accelerated quickly, resulting in her death in September 2010. There hadn’t been time to think about Beads of Courage.
“A few months after she passed, I came across Kate’s beads from Duke, and I remembered the promise,” Manzella says, “and I said, ‘We’ve got to do this for her.’ So now this is Kate’s legacy at Brenner.”
Kisses 4 Kate, a nonprofit organization established in Kate’s memory, implemented the Beads of Courage program at Brenner a year ago this month, according to Manzella, who serves as the organization’s executive director.
So when children such as Rima Boulos receive beads during their cancer treatments at Brenner, they have Kate to thank for that. And last week, during a party celebrating the program’s one-year anniversary at Brenner, that’s exactly what Rima did – she thanked Kate, Kate’s family and Kisses 4 Kate.
“The Beads of Courage mean a lot to me,” said Rima, draping a huge strand of beads across her arm. “The beads made me feel better when I had struggles. The beads are very fun to collect, too. Us cancer kids, we compare our beads to see who has the most, and whoever has the most wins.”
Rima probably didn’t lose very often. She has at least 500 or 600 beads, according to her father, Kamil Boulos.
“We lost count,” he says with a grin.
Hospital officials say Beads of Courage has been a welcome addition at Brenner.
“It’s a wonderful program,” says child life specialist Stacy Peterson, who oversees Brenner’s Beads of Courage program.
“I think it helps these children realize that they’re strong and they’re brave, and that they can endure all these things they have to do. This makes them stop and reflect on what they’ve been through. It also helps them share their story with their peers and their family, because they can take their necklace and show it to them and say, ‘This is what I do at the hospital.’ ”
The program works very simply, according to Peterson.
“Each bead represents a different milestone that they have to do for their treatment,” she says. “So they collect beads to represent chemo treatment, surgeries and so on, and they kind of build their necklaces to tell their story and their experiences.”
In addition to celebrating the one-year anniversary of Beads of Courage, Kisses 4 Kate unveiled a new program at Brenner called Gowns For Girls, which will provide designer hospital gowns for girls who are receiving treatment there. This program, too, was inspired by Kate.
“When Kate was first diagnosed and went to the hospital, she absolutely refused to wear the hospital gown,” Manzella recalled. “She said, ‘I am not wearing that – princesses do not wear those gowns.’ ”
So Kisses 4 Kate came up with a specially designed gown for Kate, which she adored.
“She was the best-dressed child on the floor,” Manzella says. “It kind of gave her some control to know she could wear whatever she wanted.”
As with Beads of Courage, the Gowns For Girls program will be a lasting tribute to Kate.
“We’re pleased that this helps people remember Kate,” says her father, Joe Thornton. “That’s important to us, because she touched a lot of people when she was alive. And it’s important to us for these kids and their families to feel supported, because we know what they’re going through.”
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