Finding bravery at Doernbecher

If you’ve been to Doernbecher recently, you may have noticed some new faces outside the 10th floor pediatric hematology/oncology clinic. These “Brave Bots,” designed and created by local artist Gary Hirsch, invite passersby to take a photo and explore one of the questions painted on the bots:

  • Who helps you be brave?
  • What’s your superpower?
  • What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

The installation at Doernbecher is the first Brave Bot mural inside of a children’s hospital. It grew out of a smaller project: the tiny domino tile Brave Bots Gary paints and donates to local hospitals.

Nurse Manager Laura Nibert, who works in Doernbecher’s Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Treatment Center, experienced firsthand the power the tiny bots held. Her daughters, Marlo and Hadley, have both been hospitalized for health challenges stemming from their premature birth. After realizing what a helpful tool the Brave Bots were for patients and parents alike, Laura and our Child Life team worked with Gary to come up with a larger-than-life installation in Doernbecher. Below, she shares her story.

How did the Brave Bots help your family?

One of my daughters, Marlo, has cerebral palsy and has been through a lot of surgeries. Before her femoral osteotomy surgery, we gave her a Brave Bot, which she named “BeeBee,” and told her that this little bot was what she’d hold in her hand when she needed to be brave. They let her take it into surgery, and she held it in her hand the whole time – when she came out of surgery, she still had it. From then on, she had to have BeeBee in her hand for any procedure. She would give it one kiss and hold it to her heart. Even though she might still feel pain, her routine made her feel brave and it helped her focus.

How do you think the Brave Bot installation will impact Doernbecher?

I think that the mural is a really interactive way for kids to express themselves. A lot of kids want to help other kids, and taking a photo with the Brave Bot and sharing what helps them be brave is one way to do that. The questions are simple, but the answers are profound. This thought process helps not just kids with cancer – it helps all kids in the hospital, because they all have to be brave.

It’s not just for the kids, though – it’s for the parents as well. When you’re in the hospital with your child, it’s almost like the world is pulled out underneath you. You’re left with a sense of helplessness. If a child can determine what helps them be brave, the parents can take that and use it to help them through whatever it is they might be experiencing. It enables parents not to feel so helpless in what might otherwise seem like a helpless situation.

How does being a nurse impact you when your own kids are in the hospital? 

I have a medical background, but that doesn’t make me any different from other parents. I’ve been in the hospital with my kids many times. When they’re being poked and prodded, I know, of course, that it has to be done, but I’ve often felt helpless. As a parent, your job is to always protect your child. You know that the nurses and physicians are doing what they need to do to help your child get better, but it can still be very difficult to watch. I think the Brave Bots help give a little power back to the parents in identifying what helps their own kids be brave.

We’re turning the tables and asking you some of the Brave Bot prompts! First, who helps you be brave? 

My kids help me be brave, as do the children that come through our clinic. These kids fight for their lives and really have a great outlook despite all that they’re going through.

What’s your superpower?

I have two: First, the love of children. Second, wanting to make the world a better place for all kids, which I do by being a nurse. I’ve been a nurse for almost 23 years and I like to think that in those years I’ve been able to make the world a better place for kids.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

Becoming a mom. There’s so much uncertainty that comes with pregnancy and having children. The bravest thing I’ve ever done was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. I have the best children – they are my world.


Share your stories of bravery in the comments below, or by snapping a photo and uploading it with the hashtag #DoernbecherBot.

In the news:
Robot dominoes help sick kids at Doernbecher (KGW)
Photo album: The Brave Bots are here! 


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  1. What a great idea. I love the interactive nature of the mural. How empowering for patients and their families. Kudos to Laura Nibert and to the artist, Gary Hirsch.

  2. What a wonder filled and tangible “bot” to be able to hand a child when they are fearful.

    And to the nurse – who cares for sick kids – I can’t think of a vocation which makes any more difference – for the child or the parent and hopefully, sometimes, yourself.

    It all fills me with gratitude.

    Skye Leslie

  3. Thank you for the kind words, Denise and Skye – I’ll be sure to pass them along to Laura, Gary and the crew.

  4. Having a grandson with Cystic Fibrosis has taught our entire family about the strength, resilience and bravery Micah must exhibit every day of his life. Thank you for the brave bots for all of us!

  5. I found an incomplete set of dominos if the person painting them would like more of them. Would be happy to give them to you.

    LOVE that you do this for the children who clearly love them and need them. hugs su ‘-}

About the Author

Lisa McMahan is a social media coordinator working to discover and share stories at OHSU. Got a story idea? Connect with the team:
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