Staff Photo: John Bohn Jamarr Woodruff, a clown with Ringling Brothers Circus, entertains the families of former patients of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Gwinnett Medical Center on Thursday. Former NICU patients and their families received additional Beads of Courage while attending the event. Several years ago, the NICU nursing staff began a program of giving Beads of Courage for each part of the treatment of premature babies in the NICU.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Kelly McLeod of Social Circle, and her 2-year-old son Ian found a spot in the front row, waiting for J-Man the clown from the Ringling Brothers to take the stage.
The mother-son duo came to the Women's Pavillion at Gwinnett Medical Center Thursday afternoon for a few laughs and to celebrate life.
But the McLeods weren't just there for a free show. Ian was once a patient at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and part of the hospital's Beads of Courage program, which was being honored by the circus.
"We were one of the inaugural babies. The program started when we got here," McLeod said while touching her strands of beads. "It tells the story of his journey. It shows what he's had to overcome and what we've had to overcome as a family. It's chronicled the highs and the lows. For us, it represents that you can overcome anything. They will always remind us about coming together as a family."
The 30-minute show brought laughs to the current NICU parents and former ones with their growing patients. J-Man -- better known as Jamarr Woodruff when he's not wearing makeup -- juggled basketballs, rubber balls and hats. Neonatologist Dr. Leslie Leigh even joined in on the fun -- he learned how to juggled neon pink and yellow scarves for the kids.
But the show was more than humor. It was about recognizing those children and families who have struggled in the NICU.
"There is nothing more courageous than finding that will to live for the patients and their parents, but we also wanted to honor the nurses and staff who encourage the will inside them. That's what the Beads of Courage do," said Regional PR Manager of Feld Entertainment Crystal Drake.
Besides a show, the circus gave the families Ringling Bros. beads to add for each milestone of treatment. Each patient received the clown bead of courage, elephant, horse, Ringmaster top hat, heart, tiger, acrobatic and confidence beads.
"The spirit of Ringling Brothers is that there is a child inside of all of us," Drake said. "That message travels. Sometimes we deliver that message right where people live and work outside of the show. We hope we did our small part of encouraging them."
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is at the Arena at Gwinnett Center Feb. 21 through March 3.