Clowns prescribe smiles and laughter at Oakland Children’s Hospital

A comedic troupe of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus clowns made the rounds through the fifth floor of Oakland Children’s Hospital yesterday, waddling room-to-room in big floppy shoes, bright red noses, and oversized apparel. They were there to present each child with a gift and an unorthodox prescription: Smile.

The circus opens today for a four-day engagement at the Oracle Arena. But these kids are too sick to go, so Ringling Bros. brought the circus to them.

Twenty-month-old Marlon Valentine couldn’t have been more excited. He laughed,  giggled and did his best to squirm out of his grandmother’s lap to make his way to the clowns during a group performance that included slapstick comedy, juggling and magic tricks. He, too, was presented with a gift: a circus-themed bead.

“This means so much,” said his grandmother, Leticia Trujillo.

Marlon has been in attending Oakland Children’s Hospital on and off since he was diagnosed with leukemia in March. Sometimes his visit last a few days, sometimes as long as a month.   “This is a good distraction,” Trujillo said.

The beads were made to honor the children who participate in the hospital’s Beads of Courage, a program founded in 2004 that supports more than 15,000 children and has been adopted by more than 90 hospitals worldwide.

All the participants start off with a necklace with their names spelled out in beads. From there, every treatment milestone– s a blood transfusion, for example, or a bone marrow transplant or overnight hospital visit–earns them a new bead. The lenthening necklace stands as a piece of art representing a child’s medical history, allowing him or her to share and reflect on his or her experiences. As the months and years pass, the length of those necklaces may range from a few inches to several feet.

“Marlon has a necklace that’s already too long for someone his age,” says Trujillo who makes her way down from her home in about 70 miles away in Calistoga to spend time with her grandson in Oakland.

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