UC Davis Children's Hospital patient families make chalk art memories


Although it’s only April, a holiday tradition is already underway. People are taking it to the streets, or more specifically, the sidewalk, driveway or patio. No, it’s not intricate candy cane light arches or snowmen blow-ups. It’s chalk art.

Avery Cunha, left, and Khaleesi and Harper Bruckenstein, enjoying chalk art while their moms enjoy them.
Avery Cunha, left, and Khaleesi and Harper Bruckenstein, enjoying chalk art while their moms enjoy them.

During the season of COVID-19, this offshoot of ‘Chalk the Walks,’ a national movement designed to share encouragement, takes on new meaning.

For some, decorated sidewalks help people find happiness during this time of crisis. Like the amazing messages left for #healthcareheroes around UC Davis Health’s campus in Sacramento. For others, chalk art offers a chance to get outside and enjoy the handiwork of neighbors – with masks on and six feet apart, of course.

For parents of UC Davis Children’s Hospital patients, however, chalk art gives them an opportunity they feared they’d miss - enjoying the gift of time spent with their sick or injured child.

Take Harper Bruckenstein. Five days after she was born at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Red Bluff, she went into heart failure. When she arrived at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, she and her family faced a life or death situation.

“Harper was diagnosed with truncus arteriosus (a rare type of heart disease) and needed immediate surgery,” said Jenneca Bruckenstein, Harper’s mom. “We didn’t know if she would make it.”

But with the help of the UC Davis Children’s Hospital care team, Harper Bruckenstein is a happy, healthy toddler now and her mom takes advantage of every opportunity to watch both Harper and her big sister, Khaleesi, grow.

“There’s nothing better than being made to stay home. I’m having way too much fun with my babes,” said Bruckenstein. “We’ve been crafting and baking up a storm. Chalk seemed like another good way to keep my girls busy and make some memories.”

The current Chalk the Walks trend is an opportunity for Amber Cunha as well. Her daughter, Avery, almost drowned two years ago. A Facebook plea from Cunha in March 2018 illustrates the terror felt at that time.

“She is such a brave little fighter, but she needs everyone’s help to get her through this so she can come home to her mommy and daddy,” Cunha posted. “Baby girl, mommy is here. Please come back to mommy. I love you soooo much.”

Like Harper, Avery was given a second chance.

“She needed to relearn how to walk, talk, sit up and eat. I was praying she would have the strength to fight and get back to herself,” said Cunha.

Avery struggled but made a full recovery. Today, Cunha captures on camera even the simplest moments spent with Avery, including her chalk masterpiece.

“Avery loves to color. So when I asked her if she wanted to color on the driveway, she got a huge grin on her face,” Cunha said. “She asked me to draw a lion. Then she roared. I laughed and made my best attempt at drawing it. We colored it in together.”

With social distancing forcing playgrounds and parks to close, caregivers, such as Bruckenstein and Cunha, and young children welcome a new reason to get some fresh air.

“Avery’s been trapped inside for so long, I knew she would love to be able to be outside safely,” Cunha said. 

“We needed to get out,” Bruckenstein added. “Plus, I have a terrible way of coming up with creative ideas.” 

Thank you, Chalk the Walks.

UC Davis Children's Hospital is the Sacramento region's only nationally ranked, comprehensive hospital providing care for infants, children, adolescents and young adults with primary, subspecialty and critical care. It includes the Central Valley's only pediatric emergency department and level I pediatric trauma center, which offers the highest level of care for its critically ill patients, as well as a level I children’s surgery center. The 129-bed children's hospital includes the state-of-the-art 49-bed neonatal and 24-bed pediatric intensive care and pediatric cardiac intensive care units. For more information, visit children.ucdavis.edu.