St John of God Subiaco Hospital introduces the Tiny Star Beads Program for its littlest patients

To help bring joy and encouragement to babies and their families being cared for in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), St John of God Subiaco Hospital recently became the first hospital in Western Australia to introduce the Tiny Star Beads Program.

6 Sep 2023

Established by Stella Bella Little Stars Foundation, the program aims to bring a positive experience to families whose children are diagnosed with a serious, long-term illness, or require regular medical treatment in the early stages of life.

The program centres on a unique concept where babies receive colourful beads to represent the events and milestones they have achieved while in the NICU, as well as the procedures they have undergone. The beads are then strung together, transforming into a beautiful memento that narrates the journey of each baby.

More than just a string of beads, this symbolic collection becomes a cherished keepsake for both the child and their family. It serves as a tangible reminder of the strength and determination required to get through every challenge in the early stages of their life.

St John of God Subiaco Hospital NICU Clinical Educator Christine Heald, passionately advocated for the program's implementation. Reflecting on her personal experience as a mother of a preterm baby, she emphasises the importance of mental health support for parents during these trying times. 

"The program not only tells the story of what the babies go through, it also aids in providing support to families," she said.

Introduced in May, the initiative has been extremely popular in the NICU and is a testament to the hospital’s focus on enhancing the wellbeing of patients. So far, 39 families at the hospital have participated in the program.

The program has proven to be a vital tool in supporting parents, particularly those who may have limited physical contact with their infants. 

During their time in the NICU, parents often find themselves in a blur of emotions. For Emma Lancaster and her partner, the program provided a tangible connection to their baby’s journey.

Baby Mia’s strand of beads, measuring about 50 centimetres in length, has become a cherished way for Emma to share her NICU experience with friends and family. 

With plans to frame the beads and display them in Mia’s room, Emma will use the beds to explain this chapter of Mia’s life to her when she’s older.

“The program is not a necessary part of the NICU admission – it’s an added initiative that St John of God Subiaco Hospital has chosen to include which goes above and beyond what they have to do,” Mrs Lancaster said.

“It’s a little memento that makes a really difficult time in the hospital that little bit easier.”

Weekly meetings are held to showcase and explain the beads and their significance in the journey. These sessions provide caregivers an opportunity to check in with parents, ensuring they understand each step of their baby's medical progress.

Christine emphasises the importance of parents being well-informed in the journey, stating, "Parents are their baby's biggest advocates - they should know exactly what's happening to their baby and why it's being done."

The program not only encourages dialogue amongst parents but also fosters a sense of community within the NICU. The curiosity sparked by the beads prompts parents to engage in conversations, offering them an avenue to share their experiences and find comfort in one another's journeys. 

St John of God Subiaco Hospital's Tiny Star Beads Program stands as a shining example of compassion, showing that a small gesture can have a profound impact on the lives of the most vulnerable. By turning hardship into hope, the hospital is ensuring that this chapter in the lives of these families is remembered not as a sad time but as a positive experience.

Infant sleeping in a bassinet with a string of colourful beads which represent the events, procedures and milestones they have achieved while in the NICU

Image: St John of God Subiaco Hospital NICU patient Mia with her beads.