Beads of Courage celebrates anniversary

Kate still makes difference in so many lives
Nov. 26, 2012 @ 04:54 PM

Joe Thornton looked on as children walked around the ninth floor at Brenner Children's Hospital carrying beads of all shapes and sizes. With each passing story of inspiration and perseverance, Thornton couldn't help but think of his daughter, Kate, whose spirit in life continues to grow in the years following her death.
On Nov. 17, Kisses4Kate, a nonprofit created in memory of Kate Thornton, a 5-year-old Thomasville girl who died from leukemia in 2010, celebrated the one-year anniversary of its Beads of Courage program at Brenner Children's Hospital. For Joe Thornton, the day was about remembering his daughter's life and the positive impact it continues to make in the lives of other children who battle cancer.  
"It means so much to me because it meant so much to Kate," Joe Thornton said. "I'm here because I want to be here for Kate and our family. It does help to know that she touched so many people when she was with us, thousands of people we'll never know. She's still able to touch people even though she's not with us."
Kisses4Kate founders were determined to bring the program to Brenner Children's Hospital following Kate's death because she loved getting the beads so much while receiving treatments at Duke Medical Center. Children receive beads for every treatment, surgery or procedure they undergo, which for some total in the hundreds. The beads act as a narrative of their struggles and all they've endured during their battle with cancer.
"It not only warms my heart it tells me Kate's memory is alive and that she still means something," said Kat Manzella, K4K executive director. "The cancer may have taken her but she's still beating it. This is a celebration of the courage of these children. We never imagined that this is what it would turn into."
For 11-year-old Rima Boules from Winston-Salem, the beads are more than a narrative, they're a novel, as she has accumulated more than 500 along her journey.
"The beads mean a lot to me," Rima said. "When I have struggles or rough times, I get a bead for almost everything I do in the hospital. That really brings me joy because I collect them and get to put them on my necklace."
Alicia Hawkins, a 17-year-old senior at East Davidson High School, said the beads help tell the story of her fight with lymphoma, a condition diagnosed two years ago after doctors thought she had pneumonia. She received her latest bead after undergoing a painful procedure without any numbing medication.
"I have a bunch," said Hawkins. "It's a way to tell everyone about my story without explaining everything in detail. I thought it was a really cool idea. [Someone with a lot of beads] just shows they've been through a lot."
Alicia's 11-year-old sister, Mattie, participates in the Sibling Beads of Courage program that brings awareness to the sacrifice brothers and sisters make as their loved ones struggle. Mattie, a student at Brier Creek Elementary, now has more than 30 beads herself.
"I want to have the beads for her so that I can know what kind of cancer she has and what she's going through," Mattie said.
In addition to the beads celebration, K4K launched its new Gowns for Girls program, which provides custom made hospital gowns for children with cancer. Kate Thornton refused to wear traditional hospital gowns, and family friends would custom makes clothes for her when she had to stay in the hospital. Area volunteers will now make free hospital gowns for girls receiving treatments at the hospital.
"We made her own gowns and that gave her some empowerment in that she could wear what she wanted to wear," said Manzella. "These are just like hospital gowns but they're beautiful." 
As the celebration winded down, Boules came up to Joe Thornton with a smile, thanking him for what his daughter has done for her and others. The still grieving father embraced his courageous kindred spirit in a heart-felt hug filled with joy and the comfort knowing his daughter was still making a difference in the lives of others.
"None of this would be happening if it hadn't been for Kate and the determination of these ladies to keep their promises," Joe Thornton said. "Those beads meant a lot to her and  I'm really happy we were able to do this."
For more information, visit

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or