Meet Hannah and Katie


Girl playing the piano

Many children view piano lessons as a burden, but two sisters at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Northern California have seized their opportunity to master the difficult instrument despite physical challenges.

Hannah and Katie Bernard were each born with a misshapen leg and missing fingers, but adopted from their native China by a family that knew love and the best medical care could lead to normal, fruitful lives.

The girls’ mother, Shecki Bernard, says knowing her children would have access to the pediatric orthopaedic care provided by Shriners Hospital helped her and her husband, Paul, with their decision to adopt kids with special needs.

Thanks to successful surgeries and custom-designed prosthetics, Hannah and Katie have conquered their lower limb problems. Now the sisters are pushing each other to accomplish something with their tiny hands that fully dexterous people seldom pursue — playing the piano.

The Gift of Play

The sisters are among the first participants in The Gift of Play, a program that promotes personal growth and development by offering piano lesson scholarships to Shriners Hospital patients. The program is a dream come true for Howard Feinberg, a Shriner and member of the Northern California hospital’s Board of Governors. A talented musician, Mr. Feinberg donated his time and resources to restore a baby Steinway grand piano located near the boardroom in the hospital’s atrium.

Haruko Haitani-Thomas volunteered to teach lessons to Shriners Hospital patients participating in The Gift of Play program on Saturday mornings.

“I am truly impressed by Hannah and Katie,” piano teacher Haitani-Thomas says. “At their first lesson, we figured out which fingers, and how many, each could use. Then I arranged the finger numbers on the music sheet to suit their hands.”

“They adapted immediately and started to enjoy playing,” Haitani-Thomas adds. “Their progress is fabulous.”

Girl playing the piano

Unique Approach to Care

Hannah, Katie and their mother all are delighted to be part of the piano lesson program. “I wanted them to get involved in music because of its benefits to the brain,” says Shecki. “Because I know what Shriners does, I knew they would have the resources to teach two sisters who do not have all their fingers,” she adds.

Hannah, 11 years old, first came to Shriners in late 2010. A successful surgery by Dr. Lerman on a lower limb propelled her into being the bright, confident child she is today. “The day of her surgery, the child life people popped in and gave Hannah a little doll to hang onto,” her mother Shecki recalls. “When Hannah woke up, she had a little cast on — and so did the doll.”

Shecki, who has seven biological children, had no qualms about welcoming another wounded child into her life. “Because of the care Hannah received here, we felt confident adopting Katie who is now 8 years old.”

The sisters, who attend Wilton Christian School, lead a very normal home life.

“Well, we do have lots of right legs around the house,” Shecki laughs. “And we enjoy coming back to Shriners for our appointments and seeing all the friends we’ve made there.”