CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It all started with a handful of glass beads and the look of joy that flashed across the face of one little boy.
Charleston native Lindsey Fitzwater, 19, was shadowing a doctor last summer when she spotted the boy lying lethargically on a hospital bed as he glanced at the cartoons that played on a television.
As she entered the room, she watched the boy transform before her eyes.
She had asked about the strands of colorful beads that hung from a nearby hospital monitor. Bursting with pride, the little boy lit up as he described each glass bead he had earned -- white for nights spent in the hospital, purple for blood draw, another set for chemotherapy administered.
Fitzwater knew immediately that she wanted to do more to make other children just as happy.
"Psychologically, these children really suffer," Fitzwater said. "They don't get out of the rooms and take advantage of the resources they have. To get over the physical block, they really need to get over the mental block."
Fitzwater founded the Pediatric Entertainment Program last summer. The program trains college students to volunteer at local hospitals where they amuse children with games, skits, puppets, music and crafts.
Each skit and toy aims to lift the spirits of sick children who might otherwise become depressed or, as Fitzwater said, mopey. She gets a thrill each time a child forgets -- just for a moment -- that they are sick.
Fitzwater struggles every day to concoct creative tasks and themes to engage those children. She created an ocean-themed day, for example, and distributed coloring books and skits about sailing and ocean animals to distract the patients.
Justin Kendrick, 15, helps Fitzwater brainstorm those ideas. The teenagers were friends from high school and share the same dream.
"The kids need something to take their mind off the everyday monotony of hospital life," Kendrick said. "We were likeminded in that vision."
Both students want to become doctors. Fitzwater, a pre-med student at West Virginia University, hopes to eventually become a pediatric oncologist, transforming the lives of other sick children. For now, however, she must content herself with simply raising their spirits.