Arts | Oregon

Brave Bots Help Young Hospital Patients Overcome Challenges

OPB | April 8, 2013 7:15 a.m. | Updated: April 8, 2013 8:39 a.m.

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Portland artist Gary Hirsch created Brave Bots to help give people a little bit of courage. Young patients at Randall Children's Hospital are using Brave Bots to face their fears and overcome the challenges of their diagnoses.

Last year, 9-year-old Ava Bruce found out that she has to prick her finger 8-10 times a day to check her blood sugar level, as well as give herself four shots every day. Ava has Type 1 diabetes.

To help support her as she faced her new challenges, Ava received a domino with a drawing of a robot during a visit to Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland. This domino is called a “Brave Bot” and according to Portland artist Gary Hirsch, who created the Bot, it’s designed to give people courage. Ava named it “Bot Bot.”

“They interact with you even though they’re just a domino,” says Hirsch. “They help you talk to yourself.”

Gary Hirsch and Ava Bruce

Gary Hirsch and Ava Bruce

Kayo Lackey / OPB

Hirsch, an artist, consultant and the creative force behind Brave Bots, approached one of the art therapists at Randall Children’s Hospital to find out if his Brave Bots could help the children at the hospital.

The art therapists were interested, and Randall Children’s Hospital asked Hirsch to make a small army of Brave Bots for children who may be experiencing social, emotional or behavioral stressors during their hospitalizations. That original order was soon increased, and Hirsch produced a larger Bot art installation that appears in the lobby of the Children’s Day Surgery Unit. Soon, the hospital asked Hirsch to create additional individual Bots, so that more of the young patients who need a little bit of courage could receive their very own Brave Bots.

Dianne Parham, child life specialist at Randall Children’s Hospital, shows the Brave Bot art installation to children who come in for pre-surgery tours to prepare them for what their visit to the hospital is going to be like.

“I explain why all those Brave Bots are here,” says Parham. “We know it’s hard for people to come to the hospital and they have to muster up some courage and some bravery.”

In addition to children who go through surgery, kids like Ava with new diagnoses of cancer or diabetes requiring treatments that may seem scary often receive Brave Bots.

“The first time that I checked my blood sugar, I just rubbed it [the Brave Bot] and it gave me a lot of courage to do it on my own. And I used it the first time I gave myself my own injection,” explains Ava.

Sierra Bruce, Ava’s mother, recalls that when Ava checked her blood sugar for the first time, she sat with her Brave Bot for about 10 minutes first.

“It was like having a conversation, but it gave her the courage to say …  ‘OK, I can do this,’ ” says Bruce. “In the first two to three months, it was that thing she needed … We would have to wake up in the middle of the night to check her blood sugar and the Brave Bot had to be there … He was a little guy that reminds her that you can do this.”

“I don’t see that she would have progressed as quickly and as positively as she has … without this little domino,” adds Bruce.

Parham knows of many children who have been encouraged by Hirsch’s Brave Bots, including a 4-year-old boy who had leg surgery. “He had a huge cast on. The parents had to pick him up and move him from place to place. He was scared of being moved because he didn’t have any control,” says Parham. “Every time they changed his clothes, every time they moved him, he had to have his Bot … because he had to be holding onto it for his bravery.”

Every Brave Bot comes with these instructions:

Kayo Lackey / OPB

  1. Allow your robot to get to know you by letting him hang out with you in your room, on your windowsill, in your pocket, or wherever you like to spend time.
  2. Listen carefully, when needed, your Brave Bot will use his robot powers to give you a little bit of courage to face the things that feel uncertain and scary.
  3. Keep your Brave Bot with you anywhere you go for a little bit of courage wherever you are.

Kayo Lackey / OPB

Last month, Ava and Hirsch had a chance to meet in person for the first time at Randall Children’s Hospital.

“He is really nice … He is funny and he is really artistic,” says Ava of Hirsch. Hirsch repaired Ava’s “Bot Bot” during their meeting, as some of the paint had rubbed off after being used so often.

In addition to Brave Bots, Hirsch makes different kinds of Bots including Zen Bots, Love Bots, Yes Bots, Blame Bots and even Mean Bots. He has produced more than 17,000 Bots and says he usually makes 100 Bots in two days.

Hirsch still has the drawing of the original robot that helped inspire his Bots. It first appeared in a journal that he created as a gift for the clients of his consulting business. The text next to the drawing of the robot reads “Go through your entire day visualizing that you have a personal giant robot that protects you, defends you and gives you outrageous compliments.”

Kayo Lackey / OPB

People liked the drawing of the robot, so Hirsch started making three-dimensional Bots three years ago after he found the perfect material — dominos. “They are incredibly tactile. It’s how they feel and I thought, ‘This is it!’ ” explains Hirsch.

“It’s incredibly gratifying to actually make something in your studio all by yourself and then put it out into the world, and then have somebody so completely appreciate it and use it and enjoy it,” adds Hirsch.

Watch a video of Hirsch creating Brave Bots.

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