She Knows Thousands Of Riley’s Best-Kept Secrets

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Quietly and without fanfare, tiny moments involving acts of kindness and compassion happen each day inside Riley. Susan Henderson-Sears gets to hear about each and every one of them.

There was the doctor whose shift had long since been over, but she stayed all night because her patient was dying and the family was scared.

There was the worker in the cafeteria -- who stepped away from his job behind the counter -- to carry a tray for a mother who was crying.

There was the respiratory therapist who made a talking dog video to soothe a patient terrified of a breathing treatment.

Quietly and without fanfare, the amazing happens inside Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health each day. A collage of hundreds of tiny moments involving random acts of kindness and compassion.

Susan Henderson-Sears considers herself the lucky one, the woman who gets to hear about these moments. She heads up the Red Shoes Award program, which recognizes those in the hospital who go above and beyond to care for patients and their families.

“I have read thousands and thousands and thousands of these. There is nobody else in this entire hospital system who has the privilege of getting to read these stories of people who have made a difference for families,” says Henderson-Sears, NICU family support director at Riley. “It is amazing.”

The environmental service worker who took the time to smile and say a kind word each time he passed a patient. A resident who jump started a car in a parking garage. A nurse who began her shift an hour early because she was worried about a patient.  

Often, the acts are small. Sometimes, they are grander. The awards can be given to anyone inside Riley who goes out of their way to care.

Former Indiana Pacers player Reggie Miller received a Red Shoes Award – for quietly returning to Riley again and again, after connecting with a patient.

Former Indianapolis Colts player Jeff Saturday did too, for the work he did on Riley’s burn unit.

“I have seen doctors dress up as Santa Claus because the kids have nothing,” Henderson-Sears says. “They come in with gifts.”

There was a resident who made sure a very sick patient got to see Taylor Swift in concert.

“The things you hear about,” Henderson-Sears says. “It is just incredible.”

And that’s how the Red Shoes Award program was born – as a way to recognize the incredible that happens inside Riley every single day.

It was 2004 when Henderson-Sears was invited to a meeting with the Bailie family. They had an idea.

“Going in to that meeting, that’s all I knew,” says Henderson-Sears.

She soon learned all about this idea. The Bailies wanted to find a way to memorialize their daughter, Mindie Bailie, who was born in 1963 with multiple heart defects and was a frequent patient at Riley.

Later in her life, Mindie earned her nursing degree and returned to work as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Riley. She died in 2001.

Inspired by the book “Hannah’s Gift” -- a story of a 3-year-old with cancer who wore her favorite red Mary Jane shoes into the operating room and connected with a resident -- the Bailies wanted to recognize an outstanding Riley resident each year for compassion in care.

That idea spiraled into a bigger one – recognizing all employees in IU Health’s pediatric care system who get it right. Beyond Riley, Red Shoes Awards are given for pediatrics at Methodist and IU Health North hospitals.

This many years later, the program is wildly successful. Henderson-Sears recently processed 80 awards in one month. Most often, it’s about 60 a month, but there have been times when more than 100 nominations have arrived.

Henderson-Sears says she is delighted with little surprises of the wonderful things going on inside the hospitals as she reads the nominations, but says the underlying theme is always the same.

“Families want people who care about them, first and foremost, and who recognize this is probably the worst time of their lives,” she says. “So, that compassion is more important than anything else to them, having someone who actually cares about what they are going through.”

Nomination boxes for the Red Shoes Award program are inside Riley, Methodist, and IU Health North hospitals. Online forms are available at

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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