Donor Story


Beads of Courage Program at UNM Children’s Hospital Brings Comfort to Patients, Families

By Miranda Fafard

Posted December 11, 2019

When you first step into the Child Life playroom at UNM Children’s Hospital (UNMCH), you’re met with a sense of calm and warmth. Up on the sixth floor of UNM Hospital, with a 180-degree view of northern Albuquerque and beyond, the playroom is a welcoming environment where young patients come to play, relax, learn, visit with family, and take their mind off their medical care for a moment.

Close-up shot of UNM Children’s Hospital patient Nieves’ strands of beads.

The UNMCH Child Life program is the largest of its kind in New Mexico, providing age-appropriate education and preparation that helps patients and their families to understand and cope with diagnoses, treatment and rehabilitation through therapeutic play, music therapy, art therapy and pet therapy, among others.

But there’s one very special Child Life program to help patients take some of the strain off their journey: Beads of Courage, in which children earn specific hand-crafted beads based on their illness and treatment and strand them together. Beads of Courage is a national program designed to support and strengthen children and their families coping with serious illness.

Heading UNMCH’s Beads of Courage program since its introduction five years ago is Amy Funk-Herrera, a Certified Child Life Specialist with an infectiously positive attitude and a deep love for the program and the children. “There’s literally a bead for every step of their medical journey,” Funk-Herrera said. “It’s a visual therapeutic way for kids to share their story.”

Currently, there are 575 children enrolled in the program at UNMCH. When a child enters the program, they’re given a string, a hand-sewn pouch to carry their strand of beads in, and alphabet beads that spell out their name, along with a Daily Bead Prescription journal, letting them know what kind of bead they’ll receive for each procedure they have throughout their journey, whether it be months or years.

There are colored beads for IV pokes, various tests and clinic visits; textured beads for challenges with medication or mobility; glass beads for surgeries; specially shaped beads such as fish for transferring units or traveling to another hospital; glow-in-the-dark beads for radiation treatments; and the coveted purple heart bead, which represents the end of treatment.

“They’ll memorize the bead checklist and tell me exactly which beads they need,” said Funk-Herrera. “I had a kiddo who went through months of chemotherapy and surgery for a limb amputation. She counted 26 stitches she had removed and wanted a bead for every single stitch. Her beads represent her courage and resiliency.”

However, there is one bead that no family ever wants to receive—the butterfly bead, which means a child has passed away. If that does happen, the family can keep their child’s strand of beads to remember them by. “It’s a way to honor their experience and bravery,” said Funk-Herrera. “Parents will hang the beads around a favorite stuffed animal or make bracelets and necklaces for different family members to wear. It honors the child’s legacy.”
To share in a patient’s journey, and if the budget allows, UNMCH also offers beads to siblings as a way to support siblings and recognize their special role in the family. “They have different beads, so when they finally see each other, they can talk about the meaning of them and share their stories,” said Funk-Herrera. “It’s another way to uplift everyone in the family.”

Gifts of Healing
Each year, private giving bolsters the Beads of Courage program. A new donor recently stepped up with a major gift to the program, and his is a familiar name to the UNM family: School of Law Professor Emeritus Peter Winograd, who is also a supporter of the UNM Cancer Center and the UNM Presidential Scholarship Program. In addition, he has endowed a scholarship at the School of Law and a visiting professorship at the College of Nursing.

“The beads are so little, but they mean so much,” Winograd said. “‘Courage’ is an understatement for the children who go through something like this. When you see these little kids, it just makes your eyes tear up.”

Feeling a bit of a personal connection to what some of UNMCH’s children have gone through, Peter speaks about seeing pictures of children who proudly display their beads. “Some of them have bead strands that are so long, that when they hang them around their neck, they’ll drag along the floor!”

When asked about such gifts to the program, Funk-Herrera said, “I’m very thankful to Professor Winograd and others like him who believe in this program as much as we do and who see the significance of these tiny beads. These generous people are helping support children and their families in more ways than they may even imagine. Without their generosity, we wouldn’t be able to provide this program.”

If you’d like to contribute to the Beads of Courage program, please click here or contact Anndee Wright Brown at or (505) 313-7608.

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