Krista Robertson looks down at the long strand of beads, remembering. The colorful beads tell a story — her son Colten's story — one of blood draws and chest tubes, surgeries and medications, holidays spent in a hospital bed. She touches a silver and blue butterfly bead, which she received after her beautiful boy passed away just three days before his third birthday. "I do love the butterfly," Krista says. "As much as I wish he was here with me, I know he's free."
Christy Collins first saw the beads — distributed through a program called Beads of Courage — at Colten's funeral. Collins, a cardiology nurse at Mayo Clinic, had cared for the little boy while he waited for a heart transplant. "Colten had gotten beads at another hospital, and his mom asked about him getting beads at Mayo," Collins tells us. At the time, Mayo didn't have a Beads of Courage program for hospitalized patients. After attending Colten's funeral, Collins was determined to start one. "I realized how much the beads meant to patients and their families," she says. "I felt it was an important way to honor our patients."
Greyson Parisien was one of the first to benefit. Like Colten, Greyson was born with a congenital heart defect. He also endured blood draws and chest tubes, surgeries and medications, and spent holidays — as well as his first birthday — in a hospital bed. Along the way, Greyson has collected more than 1,600 beads. Strung together, they stretch around 60 feet, each bead representing a milestone along his treatment path.
"It's not great to have so many beads, but it's great to be able to tell his story through the beads," Reeanne Parisien, Greyson's mom, says. It's a story with a happy ending, as two of Reeanne's favorite beads attest. There's a red heart with a small jewel, which represents the new heart Greyson received on April 23. And there's a discharge bead — a shooting star — that represents her hopes for his future. "It's amazing to have the beads and be able to see all that Greyson has been through." Reeanne says. "It will be nice to have these to explain all of this to him when he's older."
For Krista, the beads mean something different. "For parents like me who don't have their child anymore, the beads are a reminder that he lived, and that brings me joy," Krista says.
So does knowing that her son has made a difference to others. After Collins launched Beads of Courage at Mayo Clinic, she reached out to Krista. She sent her the beads that Colten earned while at Mayo, and let her know that Colten had inspired her to start the program. "Colten has been gone for over three years and he's still doing good things here," Krista says. "He was full of pure joy, and part of his legacy is spreading joy to others. It means so much to know he inspired this. I sure do miss him."
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