Beads of Courage String Together NICU Experiences, Memories

By: Cheryl Abrams

Having a newborn in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is challenging and emotional. Renee and Ray Halbritter know first-hand what that experience is like.

Their son, Riverstone, came into the world three months early. For the next 105 days, the fragile newborn resided in our Baker Regional NICU, surviving one day at a time as what our neonates have affectionately come to be known: a “Crouse Little Fighter.”

“I was in shock when I saw our baby for the first time,” admits Renee. “He was very tiny, looking so sickly and connected to all kinds of tubes and machines.” Ray recalls, “He almost didn’t look like a human being, he was so small.” Both had their doubts then that Riverstone would make it.

Looking back, Renee says, “Trust the NICU team. They know what they’re doing. They were so caring and empathetic.”

To enhance support for parents like the Halbritters, the Crouse NICU introduced earlier this year a national initiative, Beads of Courage Arts-in-Medicine, which has received many accolades from those dealing with life-threatening situations.

Members of the NICU team were introduced to the program earlier this year during a workshop facilitated by Susan Bertrand, president of Maureen’s Hope Foundation, and attended by Juli Boeheim, representing the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation. Funding from both organizations has made the program possible.

During their baby’s time in the NICU, parents receive a bead for events and milestones. Specific beads signify procedures, such as when an IV line is inserted, or those times when a baby makes significant progress. The parents string the beads together chronologically to tell their child’s NICU story.

“The beads are therapeutic in helping parents to talk about and process what has happened to their baby,” says NICU Nurse Manager Erin Vollmer. The beads also help a child learn about their own beginnings — and the courageous moments their parents faced as the NICU team worked to save their life.

Beads of Courage has been active in the NICU since the spring, and despite visiting restrictions due to COVID-19, the program is a way parents are staying connected to the daily activities for their baby.

NICU Social Worker Amanda Deavers has seen parents use the beads in so many different ways. “Moms experiencing postpartum depression have used the beads as a way to help them bond with their baby, and the program has helped parents feel more involved in their baby’s care,” Amanda says. “I’ve seen the beads used in a memorial aspect when a baby passes away. We’ve seen parents make dream catchers, necklaces and bracelets with their beads,” adding about the Beads of Courage initiative in the NICU, “It’s been effective and impactful.”

Cheryl Abrams earned her M.S. in Communications Management from Syracuse University's Newhouse School and is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, NY.

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