17 Family Game Night Ideas To Bond With Your Kids

Looking to plan an epic family game night that will bring the family together rather than induce moaning and groaning? All it takes is a little planning and you will have a new tradition that everyone will look forward to while building essential life skills.

Family game night offers more than just some fun time together. It can also help strengthen relationships and build problem-solving and reasoning skills, especially in kids, that are transferrable to academics.[1]

Unsure where to start? In this article, I’ll share with you 17 family game night ideas for picking the best and most enjoyable games for your family and some benefits. I’ll also share some hosting tips for more fun and exciting game nights.

Tips on Hosting a Fun Family Game Night

Here are six tips on how to host a fun family game night for a better experience with your family.

1. Take Turns, Everyone Should Get to Pick Regularly

If you often hear “not fair” from your crew, try pulling names from a bucket each week or however often you plan to play. Each family member should get a turn and once a member is picked to choose the game, their name gets pulled out of the bucket until everyone gets a chance to do it as well.

Consider having the person who will pick the game also pick the snacks so they can take ownership of the night. This is a great way to build confidence for each family member.

2. Select Games That Everyone in the Family Can Play

If a family member cannot play independently, give them an important role in organizing or leading the game night. They can also be a helper on someone else’s team.

Often, it is helpful to do some research and make a list of game options to choose from. If your game selections are low, ask family members to make their selections several days in advance so you have a chance to search out any new games. This will also increase buy-in when kids realize they have a new game to play.

Read on for ideas outside of traditional board games that are engaging and cost-effective.

3. Make a “No Phone/Television/Technology” Policy

Make a “no phone/television/technology” policy, parents included!

This is where you might get some pushback. As you have visions of family interactions dancing in your head, remember to consider how you will plan for distractions.

Family game nights should be a phone-and-television-free event. Make sure kids know you are in for this, too. You are working on reconnecting, and that means breaking some typical entertainment habits. All it takes is one tiny text exchange for all the kids to disengage. Guard this time, no exceptions.

Give everyone a 15-minute reminder before the game night starts so they can wrap up conversations or emails. Leave phones silenced and out of the room. Some families have a cell phone basket everyone can toss theirs in to visually show parents are making the same effort as kids.

They will thank you later when they have memories to look back on, something that texting cannot compete with.

4. Do Not Forget the Snacks!

Food makes everything better and can make your game night feel extra special. This can connect to another family bonding activity like cooking.

There’s no need to go overboard and stress yourself out, so consider bringing the family together to make a few special snacks.

The family member who picks the game can also pick the snack ideas and help make them if you want them to have the full “hosting” experience. This will help give them ownership of the night and build responsibility, planning, and leadership skills.

You can also try inviting another family member to handle the snacks so everyone has a role to play.

5. Turn On the Tunes

Just like food, music can improve game night buy-in. This could also be another opportunity to involve someone to be the DJ.

Since everyone has different music tastes this role should be rotated. Make sure everyone knows in advance that only positive comments are welcomed and that criticizing musical taste can hurt others’ feelings.

Let your family members also know that everyone will have a turn to be the DJ, even parents! You can even have everyone create playlists of their favorite songs to share.

6. Consider a Theme

Consider a theme for the month to help focus the attention on specific kinds of games. This also allows family members to try out different types of games they never thought they would like.

Our kids always thought that card games were boring and only for adults. But when they learned how to play certain games, cards are one of the most requested games, and they don’t require a lot of planning!

Below are some basic types of games you can consider building a theme around. Every family member can pick a game under a specific theme before moving on to the next.

17 Family Game Night Ideas

Here are 17 family game night ideas to bond with your kids.

1. Twister

Credit: Polina Tankilevitch via Pexels.com

Keep your hands and feet on the mat’s circles without having your body hit the floor. A fun and active twister game that keeps everyone engaged and even teens can have a great time playing!

2. Go Fish

go fish

Go Fish is a fun card game suited for kids three and older. This game encourages younger kids to learn matching skills, memorization, and how to read numbers. If you have older siblings, encourage leadership by teaching littles how to play.

3. Pictionary

Credit: François Haffner, Public Domain

Sharpen your artistic skills with a drawing game that will inspire imagination. Pictionary‘s objective is to guess what the object or item is from your opponent’s drawing.

4. Clue


This detective and mystery board game is for eight-year-old and older players. Clue Detective Game‘s objective is to solve a mystery by finding out who the mystery killer is, the murder weapon used, and which room where the crime occurred. It’s an oldie but goodie!

5. Help Your Neighbor

Help Your Neighbor is another fun family card game that’s perfect for kids ages four and up.

6. Scrabble

Credit: Wikipedia

Earn points by placing letter pieces on the board to form different words. Scrabble will help your kids expand their vocabulary. Calling out nonsense words is sure to provide a good laugh!

7. The Floor Is Lava

This fun and active game will have everyone on their toes. Whenever someone enters the room and yells out “Floor is Lava!”, everyone has five seconds to get off the ground.

8. Life

life board game
Credit: Randy Fath via Unsplash.com

Life’s a classic board game that will take the whole family on a fun adventure through LIFE! This board game will offer your kids exciting choices that will challenge them and teach them strategy. Younger kids will enjoy filling their cars with family members.

9. Dance Charades

Get the whole family out of their shell with a fun game of charades—dancing style.

10. Monopoly

Credit: Maria Lin Kim via Unsplash.com

Monopoly is another fun classic board game. Choose a fun token piece and travel around the board, collect money, and make deals on property. This fun game will teach your kiddos how to manage their money and other financial lessons.

11. Balloon Tennis

The entire family can play a simple DIY game in the living room or the yard. Assemble your racket by sticking a popsicle stick behind a paper plate, and try your best to keep the inflated balloon from touching the floor. This one is so.much.fun.

12. Battleship

Credit: Amazon

Teach your kids strategy with this tabletop game Battleship. The game’s object is to sink your opponent’s ships by guessing where they placed them on the board. 

13. Slapjack

The objective of the game is to be the first player to slap the jack from the pile and win all of the cards from the deck. This multi-player game will get everyone’s adrenaline running and is perfect for playing with 5+ players.

14. Yahtzee

Credit: Wikipedia

This fun dice-rolling game Yahtzee will have your kids counting, multiplying, and calculating probability. The objective of the game is to score points and come up with various scoring combinations.

15. No Stress Chess

If you’re looking to teach your kids the fundamentals of chess, No Stress Chess is a good place to start. Each player chooses a card from their hand to show how their game pieces can be played on the board.

16. Uno

Credit: Yan Krukov via Pexels.com

Uno is a multi-player card game that can be enjoyed with the entire family. Each player is dealt with seven cards and strategies on how to use their cards following a color or number trend. The object of the game is to be left with no cards.

17. Qwirkle

Credit: Amazon

The objective of Qwirkle is to create lines based on colors and shapes on a flat surface. It’s a great game for younger kids to strategize.

Benefits of Having Family Game Nights

Arranging for a regular family game night has benefits that go beyond spending time together. While strengthening relationships and having fun together may be your primary focus, there are several noteworthy benefits to having regular family game nights.

1. Supports Mental Health

If you have ever wondered about how to get your family to practice mindfulness, this is a great way to do it!

Mindfulness is about giving all your attention to one thing. What better way to practice mindfulness than paying attention to family members?

According to research, some of the benefits of mindfulness include reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosted memory, better cognitive flexibility, better focus, and less emotional reactivity.[2]

2. Improves Academic and Problem-Solving Skills

Most games involve some level of strategy. Developing these skills can sometimes equate to improved school performance, academic outcomes, and confidence.[3]

If this is an area of focus, look for games that involve strategy or solving mysteries.

3. Improves Executive Functioning

Nope, we are not talking about prepping your child to be the first 10-year-old CEO. Executive functioning includes self-regulation skills and the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus, recall, and solve multiple-step problems.

Family game night is the perfect way to develop these essential life skills!

4. Teamwork/Improved Relationships

If you are looking to get your family members to work together, there are plenty of games that rely on teamwork, and this will also serve them well in other areas. Just spending this quality time together helps strengthen relationships.

5. Provides Leadership Opportunities

Offering family members the chance to consider games that everyone can participate in and plan the evening is a great way for them to develop leadership skills. This teaches them the basics of organizing events and leading other people without any pressure.

6. Offers an Outlet to Share Interests

Your kids likely have their own unique interests and preferences. Sharing a favorite game and teaching others how to play can help build confidence and relationships. Don’t forget to share your own, too!

7. Discover That Screen-Free Fun Does Exist

This is self-explanatory. Technology has a multitude of benefits, but too much of it can cause physical issues, such as eyestrain, and psychological problems, such as difficulty focusing.[4] Therefore, kids need to know how to have fun without it, too.

8. Challenges Everyone (Even Parents) to Be Fully Present and Engaged

This is laid out in the ground rules. Family game nights should be a time focused on having fun together. Resist the urge to multi-task.

Even if there is a pile of laundry sitting next to you or a sink full of dishes waiting to be done, modeling how to give your full attention to an activity will help your kids do the same.

If you are used to having to juggle multiple tasks, this will be a great exercise for you to slow your mind down and retrain your brain and body to focus on one activity only.

We are used to spreading our attention to multiple things at once, which is proven to not be good for our brain.[5] This is a great opportunity for everyone to focus on one thing while having fun.

Final Thoughts

There are so many ways to make family game nights feel extra special and tailored to your family’s interests. The kids do not need to know all the benefits, but they will appreciate feeling like they have an important role, even if they don’t admit it.

The secret to making family game nights something that everyone looks forward to is to show you are interested in it, too, and to take a few extra steps to make it feel special, like a party where everyone gets to be involved in planning and put their stamp on. Involving everyone in the planning process will increase interest and ownership.

What will you do to make your family game nights unforgettable?

Featured photo credit: National Cancer Institute via unsplash.com


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When To Hire In Your Small Business (A Step-By-Step Guide)

For many small business owners, profit margins are not what they used to be. At least one outworking of these ever-thinning margins is a growing reluctance to hire additional staff, even when the need has become evident.[1]

Balancing your bottom line against increasing worker fatigue is always tricky. Knowing exactly when to hire in your small business can elude even the most discerning managers.

Prospective employees are also bringing a shopping list to interviews as they increasingly demand “finding the right fit” for them. How is a small business owner to know when to hire or even how to engage in such a vastly altered landscape?

Some Benchmarks on When to Hire in Your Small Business

Of course, the small business owner who is exclusively focused on the bottom line for deciding when to hire will miss every boat that sails past.

Yes, asking yourself whether you can afford to hire additional staff is common sense and should be your top priority. However, the migration of commerce to online retailers has added a few wrinkles you must iron out.

When Is the Right Time to Hire Additional Staff?

I’ve already mentioned thinning profit margins and the tendency to postpone adding additional staff as long as possible. But you also don’t want to delay so long that your existing team gets fed up with the pace of an increased workload and bails out.

Your investment in gathering helpful information does not need to be countless hours of supervisory oversight. Instead, implementing four primary practices as a regular part of operations can help sound a “trigger warning” when the time to hire might be at hand.

1. Guard Your Team Against Ever-Shifting Job Descriptions

Back when you hired one of your historically most reliable staff members, they knocked down every obstacle placed before them. As a result, you kept adding and adding to their responsibilities.

However, you might also be unwittingly contributing to worker fatigue and burnout.[2] Sometimes, this even happens with staff that is genuinely enthused about taking on new challenges.

Periodically just glancing at your current team and asking yourself why you hired them in the first place can bring tremendous insight.

Nip worker fatigue in the bud by setting aside consistent, scheduled time for informal, one-on-one meetings.

How often and how long meetings will be will depend entirely on your business model. You might decide to go with weekly meetings of 5 to 10 minutes or lengthier review sessions every month or quarter.

If you aren’t touching base with your people regularly, it’s time to start.

Also, ask your managers to sign off on company job descriptions intermittently. This can be informal (quarterly emails, for example) or face-to-face reviews. The bottom line is that you want to keep tabs on workload and qualifications.

Are your people still doing what you hired them for? Have their daily assignments shifted, perhaps imperceptibly? Document, document, document.

2. Consider Staffing Changes When Implementing Any New Technology

It may be somewhat embarrassing, but more than one small business owner has gone “all in” on a new piece of technology or software without pausing long enough to ask a simple question:

“Which of my existing people will operate—and maybe even be called upon to troubleshoot—this new technological marvel?”

Few things will cause more stress than asking existing staff to operate a new device or piece of software that is unfamiliar. Tread carefully as unique needs arise.

Maybe this is the time to add a part-timer with specialized skills or delegate this new responsibility while simultaneously taking other tasks off someone else’s plate?

Before your company makes any significant investment in technology, ensure that part of your due diligence includes talking to other trustworthy business owners who have already taken the plunge. While they may not have purchased the same brand or model you are considering, they can certainly offer insights you may not have considered.

Also, whatever you do, don’t rely solely on web-based reviews or ratings. Make sure you talk to real, flesh-and-blood users, too. Be sure to ask specific questions about team morale before and after the implementation.

Yes, this research will require more of your time upfront, but it can save you the higher costs of hiring and turnover.

3. Prioritize Seeking Feedback From Your Longtime Employees

There are many reasons why ignoring or dismissing feedback is potentially disastrous. Brushing off “we need help” comments as encroaching laziness may be tempting. However, at a minimum, you should take the time to evaluate this sort of feedback carefully.

Has this particular employee been prone to complaining in the past? Have you previously noticed them not having the best interests of your business in mind? Perhaps more to the point, have multiple staff approach you with the same sort of feedback?

If you’re the lone holdout on a need to hire for your small business, it’s time to hit pause and do a bit of soul searching. This is where your daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly bull sessions with staff will pay off.

You already have enough information to put together a draft proposal for hiring someone new. Position this draft as “something we are considering for the future” and pass it around to those employees likely to be most affected.

Once you’ve honed the job description to something that seems manageable, there’s one more thing to do before posting it to LinkedIn or Indeed.

Take a quick look at salary and lifestyle expectations for job seekers in that niche. Can your company compete against other employers in your geographic area and industry? If not, it might be time to look for staffing alternatives.

4. Be on the Alert for Changes in Customer Demographics

Perhaps your small business’s product or service appeals to a particular market niche. That being the case, has the median age range of your average customer gone up or down? Have changes in the local community resulted in a different clientele than previously?

Over time, even incremental changes in your customer base can give rise to an almost-imperceptible increase in how hard your existing staff is being asked to work. Typically, if you wait until lines at the register are stretching out the door, you’ve already lost longtime customers.

Of course, any increase in sales is excellent—until people start hitting the exit.

Assuming that your business has any sort of web presence, your first step for noticing demographic shifts is to dive deep into your website analytics.

For example, if you are using Google Analytics, you can easily create custom reports based on user demographics and have these automatically emailed to your purchasing team. Don’t expect your team to go out looking for information.

Your next step is to compare and contrast user demographics against actual sales.

For example, increased urbanization may be changing the needs of your local community. Online interest may not translate to real-world dollars and cents.

Of course, it can only help to connect with local business associations, reputable realtors, or chambers of commerce, too. Information will be your best friend as you seek to stay ahead of any shift.

How Is Hiring for Small Businesses Unique?

Many small business owners still make a categorical mistake when evaluating applicant resumes or portfolios. They can easily give applicants little more than a cursory glance before deciding who they want to interview.

The underlying assumption is that the most qualified candidates are always the best. That’s often true, but not always.

For example, someone who looks great “on paper” might only be looking for a paycheck until they can move on to bigger and better things. More prominent companies can weather frequent staff turnover far better than small businesses.

When hiring for your small business, try to consider factors that contribute to long-term success. Does the applicant have roots in your community? Are they willing to join your mentorship program[3]‍?

It’s always easier to spend some time training a less-than-perfect applicant than to invest time, effort, and expense in a job hopper.

How Can Small Business Owners Spot Suitable Applicants?

Of course, word-of-mouth is probably your single best tool for evaluating someone’s suitability. If the applicant has worked in other small business settings, take the time and effort to call their previous supervisor. Even better if you already know their former boss!

Even if you really, really like the applicant, make the phone call anyway.[4]

The other characteristic to look for is a genuine interest in what your business produces and an intrinsic desire to learn more.

It can be eye-opening to introduce applicants to longtime staff and then leave the room. Consider giving applicants a chance to interact informally with other trusted team members without your oversight.

Additional Hiring Tips

Anytime you hire anybody, there is always a risk that you will spend a lot of time training them only to lose them to a better position elsewhere. That’s just part of the game.

However, when you demonstrate an authentic interest in positioning your staff for individual success, they will be far less likely to take their talents elsewhere.

In today’s market, it will help immensely to treat every interview as a two-way street. Many managers still make the mistake of believing that the assessment is one-way.

Asking two-way questions, such as “Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?” or “Has this interview raised or lowered your enthusiasm?” can help. It signals to applicants that you are not merely viewing your staff as task-completing drones.

When you hire for your small business, you plan to invest in your new hires.

Never Enter the Hiring Process in a Hurry!

Lay the groundwork for your next hire while all is well, and your small business is purring like a contented kitten. This is where you want to combine your long-term personal goals with those of other employees.

Yes, you want your business to thrive, but that can only happen when you are prepared to help your people do likewise.

Featured photo credit: Blake Wisz via unsplash.com


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How To Help Your Children With Anxiety (Do’s and Don’ts)

Anxiety to many is the all-encompassing term to describe being nervous, but for those with a specific anxiety disorder, it can be a debilitating fear of a thing or situation that does not pose a real threat.

The overuse of the word in our daily lives can make understanding the disorder confusing for our children and equally confusing for parents who try and mitigate the stress and strain they witness their child go through. This makes it harder for parents to learn how to help their children with anxiety.

Research suggests that 9.4% of children between 3 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with anxiety.[1] Unfortunately, family interactions can also increase anxiety if they feed into anxious thought patterns.

So, what are the key do’s and don’ts for helping your child with anxiety?

How to Help Your Children With Anxiety

1. Don’t Reason. Do Grounding Techniques

When your little one is in the midst of an anxiety attack, the symptoms will influence their thoughts, making fear seem even more reasonable. One of the best ways to reduce symptoms so that you can begin to overcome the fear is through grounding techniques.

Techniques you can try are sucking a sour-sweet candy, 33×3 technique[2] where the child must name three sounds, sights, and smells, or aromatherapy.

Research suggests sucking a sour-sweet is a great grounding technique that allows the child to direct attention away from anxiety symptoms at the moment by focusing on something else.[3]

This is different from avoiding because it helps your child face fears by focusing their attention on other sensations and can then help them push themselves to face fears and manage anxiety.

2. Don’t Avoid. Do Support

As a parent, you are driven to protect your child from harm. So when seeing your little one experience extreme distress, it is only natural to want to provide them with short-term relief by allowing them to avoid the situation frightening them.

Some ways in which we might do this are speaking for our children in social settings, allowing them to sleep in the bed with us, or permitting them to skip school and social situations. These provide short-term relief but could only make your child’s anxiety worse in the long run.

What you can do instead is create a plan to approach anxiety-related things or situations and support your child to get through them.

Outlining gradual steps towards facing your child’s fear should diminish extreme distress while still facing and overcoming their fears. Support here could come from encouraging words and love, seeing a psychologist, and speaking with the child’s educators.[4]

It is also important to make sure your child knows that you have confidence in their abilities. Allowing them to make their own decisions, even if they are small, is an important step in communicating that you have confidence in your child.

Saying things like, “I can hear that you are scared, but I am with you, and I know you can get through this,” are also a great way to ensure that your child believes they can face their fears and uncertainty.

3. Don’t Become Stressed. Do Stay Calm

A great strength of a good parent is being in tune with their child. However, when it comes to handling your child’s anxiety, this can also be a major drawback.

A parent’s reaction to a child’s anxiety is to often become stressed and anxious themselves, which will only exacerbate the situation.[5]

The ability to remain calm and handle your stress is arguably the best thing you can do, especially when your child is in the middle of an anxiety attack. This not only demonstrates to your child how to manage their stress, but it will also help ease their fears and instill confidence in their ability to face them.

Finally, resisting stress and remaining calm could also help you think clearer and make more thoughtful decisions on how to best support your child.

4. Don’t Empower Feelings. Do Respect Them

A common misconception is that validation means agreement, but this is not always the case. You can understand and empathize with your child’s experience of fear without belittling or disregarding them.

For instance, if your child has health anxiety and is afraid they have an illness you know they don’t have, you probably won’t want to amplify these feelings by agreeing with them, but you also won’t want to belittle their feelings, causing more anxiety.

Instead, listen and be empathic while helping them understand what they’re anxious about, encouraging them to feel like they can face their fears.

Phrases that might be helpful for your child to hear could include: “I know you’re scared, and that’s okay, and I’m here, and I’m going to help you get through this.” This helps the child feel understood and know that they are not alone.

5. Don’t Ask Leading Questions. Do Think It Through

While this may seem contradictory, asking leading questions can often continue the anxiety cycle. It is better to ask open-ended questions or talk worries through with your child as this allows them to still talk about their feelings without giving power and control to the fear.

For example, instead of asking, “Are you anxious about failing your test?” Try to instead ask them how they are feeling about the test or even how they are feeling in general. Here, they are in control of their feelings.

Another great way to take power away from anxiety is to think things through.

For example, if your child is afraid that a stranger might be sent to pick them up, you can ask your child that if this does happen, they can express their fears of abandonment.

You can then both work together to come up with a solution like having a special code to give anyone that picks the child up, taking away the risk and fear. Here, having a plan is a way for your child to reduce uncertainty effectively.

6. Don’t Restrict. Do Eat a Balanced Diet

What you eat impacts your mental health, and when it comes to managing anxiety, supporting your child’s nutritional needs could make a huge difference in the severity of anxiety symptoms. Vitamins such as magnesium and omega-3 are great for balancing mood, jitteriness, and nervousness.[6]

When it comes to hormones and food, serotonin is mainly produced and absorbed in the gut, and it is also one of the major hormones responsible for the severity of anxiety symptoms. You can support serotonin absorption by eating lots of fish, oats, and dairy products.

You should also encourage your child to exercise as this will not only help mediate anxiety symptoms but will also increase the production of serotonin.

7. Don’t Go With the Flow. Do Establish a Routine

As anxiety is often driven by the feeling of uncertainty, a great way to combat this is to create a routine to bring predictability and certainty into the anxious child’s life.

You can do this by having the same wake-up, nap, meal, play, homework, and family times every day. That way, the child knows what to expect and allows them to feel like their environment is safe.[7]

Having a routine could also keep anticipatory periods short and minimize feelings of impending doom in the child. If you know your child is anxious about visiting the doctor and getting their shots, you can schedule the visit right after playtime, reducing the child’s need to repetitively think about what could go wrong.

This sense of predictability should also help the child focus on certain things at home like TV time or dinner time and overcome their fears. (Autism Parenting Magazine: Anxiety and Autism: Best Ways to Relieve the Effects of Anxiety)

Final Thoughts

While anxiety is not something you can ever eliminate, finding ways to manage it and reduce its severity is crucial in supporting your child’s wellbeing.

While short-term relief often seems like the best go-to, it might be detrimental in the long run. Instead, by giving your child grounding tools, teaching them to have a balanced diet and stay active, and showing them how to challenge their thoughts, you’re giving them powerful tools to overcome their anxiety for life.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com


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The Baby With the Baboon Heart

On 3 December 1967, South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard made medical history by performing the first successful human heart transplant, transferring the heart of accident victim Denise Darvall into 65-year-old Louis Washkansky. While Washkansky died 18 days later of pneumonia, the pioneering surgery heralded a new era of medicine, giving thousands of people a new chance at life. Today over 5,000 heart transplants are performed every year worldwide, the once unthinkable procedure having become all but routine. So routine, in fact, that the main limiting factor is no longer the surgeon’s skill or the patient’s body rejecting the transplant but rather the availability of donated organs. This shortage is especially acute for babies, who, unlike adults, rarely suffer the kinds of injuries which render them braindead but leave their organs intact. It is for this reason that in October 1984 a surgeon named Leonard Lee Bailey attempted the impossible and implanted a newborn girl with the heart of a baboon. This is the bizarre and controversial story of Baby Fae.

Stephanie Fae Beauclair was born on October 14, 1984 at a hospital in Barstow, California. Her mother, 24-year-old Teresa Beauclair, was unemployed and had recently separated from Stephanie’s father. Right away, it was clear that something was wrong; delivered three weeks premature, Stephanie weighed only five pounds at birth and was blue all over – a sign of improper oxygen circulation. Stephanie and her mother were immediately driven by ambulance to Loma Linda Medical Center, a Seventh-Day Adventist hospital 60 miles outside Los Angeles. Here, Teresa received the terrible news: Stephanie had been born with a rare congenital condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome or HLHS, in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped. Affecting one in 10,000 babies, HLHS is invariably fatal. Teresa was given two options: leave Stephanie in the hospital to die, or take her home to die. Teresa opted to have Stephanie baptized and move into a nearby motel room where could gather her thoughts.

It was then that fate intervened in the form of Dr. Leonard Lee Bailey, a Loma Linda surgeon who had just returned from a medical conference. During his residency at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children in the 1970s, Bailey had seen dozens of otherwise healthy children die of HLHS, and was frustrated by doctors’ helplessness in the face of the disease. Nearly all attempts to repair the damage surgically failed, leaving heart transplants as the only viable option. But while by the 1970s heart transplantation was a well-established procedure, the problem lay, as previously mentioned, with the lack of available donor organs. Even today, some 2000 babies are born every year requiring heart transplants, while only around 300 are capable of donating the required organs. The majority of these are anencephalic, meaning they are born without fully-developed brains or skulls. However, few of these babies actually become organ donors, for the criteria for establishing brain death – the key prerequisite for organ donation – are often complex and ambiguous, and in any case few parents actually consent to having their child’s organs donated. In the face of such dire shortages, Bailey became an enthusiastic proponent of xenografting – the transplantation of organs from other, non-human species.

Xenografting was not a new idea, but it had never been successfully carried out. In 1964 surgeon James Hardy transplanted the heart of a chimpanzee into the chest of a 68-year old man. While the heart started beating on its own, the patient died after only 90 minutes. In 1977, heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard piggybacked the heart of a baboon on the circulatory system of a 25-year-old woman, but she died five hours later. Barnard would later use the same technique with a chimpanzee heart and a 59-year-old man, who lasted four days before dying. Throughout the 1960s surgeons Thomas Starzl and Keith Reemtsma had greater success transplanting primate kidneys into human patients, but even these lasted only two months before they were rejected by the recipient’s body. Yet despite this dismal track record, Bailey was confident that with proper immune matching techniques and recent advances in immunosuppressing drugs, a xenograft could keep a patient alive long enough for a proper human organ to be located and transplanted. In 1976, this conviction led Bailey to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, where he performed more than 200 experimental heart transplants on infant mammals including goats, sheep, and baboons in order to perfect the technique. All he needed now was a human patient to test his theories. Upon learning of her case, Bailey set his sights on Stephanie Beauclair.

Shortly after returning to Loma Linda, Bailey visited Teresa Beauclair at her motel and offered to perform the experimental transplant free of charge. Teresa agreed, and on October 19 Stephanie was readmitted to Loma Linda so that her tissues could be matched with a viable donor. The donors in question were seven young female baboons obtained from the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Texas. While around 70% of humans have pre-formed antibodies against baboon tissue, encouragingly Stephanie was found to be among the 30% who did not. Still, as many at the time pointed out, baboons were an unusual donor choice, given that other apes – particularly chimpanzees – are more closely related to humans in evolutionary terms. When questioned about this, Bailey, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, replied:

 “Er, I find that difficult to answer. You see, I don’t believe in evolution.”

On October 26 the tissue-matching results came back, indicating that Stephanie was most compatible with a nine-month-old baboon named Goobers. By this time Stephanie’s condition had begun to deteriorate, her organs shutting down one by one. It was now or never. So on the same day Stephanie Beauclair and Goobers were wheeled into the operating room and the pioneering surgery began. The procedure took five hours to complete, Bailey painstakingly reconnecting Stephanie’s tiny blood vessels to Goobers’s walnut-sized heart. Then, at 11:35 AM, the baboon heart began to beat on its own in Stephanie’s chest. Sandra Nehlsen-Cannarella, an immunologist who assisted with the surgery, later described the scene:

“[Stephanie’s] new heart began to beat spontaneously. There was absolute awe. The mood was somber, not euphoric, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, to see her literally transformed from a helpless cripple.”

Three days later, nurses weaned Stephanie off her respirator and she began to breathed on her own. Colour returned to her pale blue skin, and despite the giant incision running down her chest she looked for all intents and purposes like a healthy little girl. Bailey was ecstatic, boldly predicting that Stephanie would live to see her first – if not her 20th – birthday. The next day, he held a press conference to announce his triumph to the world, fighting back tears as he predicted:

“Infants with heart disease yet to be born will someday soon have the opportunity to live, thanks to the courage of this infant and her parents.”

 In order to protect the privacy of mother and child, Loma Linda refused to divulge any personal details and referred to Stephanie simply as “Baby Fae,” the name by which she would become globally famous. Footage of the tiny patient was broadcast all around the room, and hundreds of well-wishers flooded her hospital room with cards and flowers, praying for her full recovery.

Unfortunately, Bailey’s boundless optimism proved misplaced, for while Baby Fae thrived for a while, her body soon began to reject the foreign organ and her condition rapidly deteriorated. Her kidneys failed, her heart developed a blockage, and on November 15, 1984 Baby Fae died, having survived the surgery by 21 days – longer than any previous xenograft recipient. In hindsight her death was inevitable, for while Bailey had hoped to keep her alive until a human heart became available, no such organ was forthcoming. Furthermore, Baby Fae’s blood was Type O, a type shared by fewer than 1% of baboons. Fae’s body was thus fundamentally incompatible with Goobers’s Type AB organs.

The Baby Fae case became a media sensation, inspiring dozens of works of pop culture including a line in the 1986 Paul Simon song “The Boy in the Bubble.” However, it also ignited a storm of controversy that still rages to this day. While many commended Bailey for his pioneering efforts, others decried the procedure as morally and ethically repugnant. Particularly incensed were animal rights activists, with Lucy Shelton of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals declaring:

“This is medical sensationalism at the expense of Baby Fae, her family, and the baboon.”

Philosopher Thomas Regan argued that all beings, human or not, have a right to life, writing that:

“Like us, Goobers was somebody, a distinct individual. Those people who seized Goober’s heart, even if they were motivated by their concern for Baby Fae, grievously violated Goobers’s right to be treated with respect. That she could do nothing to protest, and that many of us failed to recognize the transplant for the injustice that it was, does not diminish the wrong, a wrong settled before Baby Fae’s sad death.”

Bailey responded to such criticisms with bafflement, stating:

“People in southern California have it so good that they can afford to worry about this type of issue. When it gets down to a human living or dying, there shouldn’t be a question [of using an animal to save that human]. We’re not in the business of uselessly sacrificing animals, we’re forced to make a choice. We can either decide to continue to let these otherwise healthy human babies die because they are born with only half of their heart, or we can intervene, and, in so doing, sacrifice some lesser form than our own human species.”

The Loma Linda Center for Christian Bioethics agreed with Bailey, stating:

“On an ethical scale, we will always place human beings ahead of subhumans, especially in a situation where people can be genuinely saved by animals. That is the story of mankind from the very beginning, Animals, for example, have always been used for food and clothing.”

While doctors and ethicists like Arthur L. Caplan of the New York University School of Medicine defended Bailey, arguing that:

“He was really trying to find an answer for very young children who needed a transplant. He was driven by a real desire to help . . . not fame, not fortune, not money, not greed.”

… others questioned whether the baboon heart transplant had actually been necessary. While Bailey maintained that the procedure was the only option due to a lack of donated infant hearts, according to Paul Teraski, director of the Southern Regional Organ Procurement Agency, a viable human heart was available on the day of Baby Fae’s surgery, but Bailey had chosen deliberately chosen not to use it:

“I think that they did not make any effort to get a human infant heart because they were set on doing a baboon.”

Bailey’s assertion that there was no other option is further undermined by the work of surgeon William Norwood of the Children’s Hospital Philadelphia, who at the time had developed a surgical procedure to correct HLHS with a success rate of 40%. By contrast, despite Bailey’s reassurances to Teresa Beauclair, his baboon heart procedure had a zero percent chance of working long-term. Faced with these accusations, Bailey still defended his decision to operate, stating:

We were not searching for a human heart. We were out to enter the whole new area of transplanting tissue-matched baboon hearts into newborns who are supported with antisuppressive drugs. I suppose that we could have used a human heart that was outsized and that was not tissue-matched, and that would have pacified some people, but it would have been very poor science. On the other hand, I suppose my belief that there are no newborn hearts available for transplantation was more opinion than data or science, but it is scientific to acknowledge that the whole area of determining brain death of newborns is very problematical.”

This issue of medical necessity is part of a larger ethical controversy over the difference between therapeutic and experimental procedures. According to most medical ethicists, a procedure can only be considered therapeutic if there exists a high probability of benefiting the patient long-term. As the odds of Baby Fae surviving long-term with a baboon heart were essentially zero, by this definition Bailey’s procedure can only be classified as experimental. For this reason, Bailey’s procedure was harshly criticized as unscientific by the American Medical Association, who argued that experimental procedures should only be performed as part of larger, systematic medical studies and not as one-offs.

Further criticism has centred on whether Bailey obtained proper informed consent from Teresa Beauclair – or whether parents can even ethically volunteer their children for experimental procedures. Had Bailey not offered to perform the surgery for free, out-of-pocket the procedure would have cost over $250,000, plus $20,000 in immunosuppressant drugs every year for the rest of Baby Fae’s life. As Teresa had no health insurance at the time and thus no other options for saving her baby’s life, critics argue that she was fundamentally incapable of giving informed consent. Furthermore, Teresa later claimed that the consent form Bailey had on file was different from the one she signed, which optimistically claimed that the transplant would keep Fae alive “long term.” And while Bailey claimed he had obtained consent from both parents, Fae’s father was not in fact present at the time of the signing. As Boston University law professor George Annas later wrote:

“This inadequately reviewed, inappropriately consented to, premature experiment on an impoverished, terminally ill newborn was unjustified. It differs from the xenograft experiments of the early 1960s only in the fact that there was prior review of the proposal by an IRB. But this distinction did not protect Baby Fae. She remained unprotected from ruthless experimentation in which her only role was that of victim.”

Yet despite these controversies, the Baby Fae experiment gave Bailey the confidence to continue his research, and the following year he performed the world’s first successful human infant heart transplant. The patient, Eddie Anguiano – known at the time as “Baby Moses” – not only survived the procedure, but is still alive today – the oldest living recipient of an infant heart transplant. Bailey would go on to perform 376 infant heart transplants and become a leading expert on congenital heart disease, serving at Loma Linda for 42 years. Leonard Lee Bailey died of throat cancer on May 12, 2019 at the age of 76.

Since 1905, 33 xenografts have been performed on humans, none of which have been successful. Nonetheless, research on the practice continues, with scientists exploring ways of genetically modifying animals like pigs to make their organs more compatible with humans. Given the relative dearth of viable donor organs – especially for infants and young children – such techniques will be vital to saving lives in the future. This contemporary research owes much to Baby Fae, whose controversial 1984 surgery pushed the boundaries of what was considered medically possible. As Leonard Bailey told the New York Times in 1990:

“We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for Baby Fae. We’re not as crazy as everyone believed. The experiment gave us the confidence to continue.”

Nonetheless, the subject of infant heart transplants – and the risky but necessary experiments that make them possible – will always remain a controversial one. The moral and ethical quandaries involved in saving the lives of young children are perhaps best summarized by theologian Paul Ramsey, who wrote:

“If today we mean to give such weight to the research imperative, then we should not seek to give a principled justification of what we are doing with children. It is better to leave the research imperative in incorrigible conflict with the principle that protects the individual human person from being used for research purposes without wither his expressed or correctly construed consent. Some forms of human experimentation should, in this alternative, be acknowledged to be “borderline situations” in which moral agents are under the necessity of doing wrong for the sake of the public good. Either way they do wrong. It is immoral not to do the research. It is also immoral to use children who cannot themselves consent and who ought not to be presumed to consent to research unrelated to their treatment. On this supposition research medicine, like politics, is a realm in which men have to “sin bravely.””

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Expand for References

Oliver, Ansel, Iconic “Baby Fae” Surgeon Leonard Bailey Dies at Age 76, Spectrum, May 13, 2019, https://spectrummagazine.org/news/2019/iconic-baby-fae-surgeon-leonard-bailey-dies-age-76

Langer, Emily, Leonard Bailey, Transplant Surgeon Who Gave ‘Baby Fae’ a Baboon Heart, Dies at 76, The Washington Post, May 16, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/leonard-bailey-transplant-surgeon-who-gave-baby-fae-a-baboon-heart-dies-at-76/2019/05/16/e8f6fd7a-77e5-11e9-b3f5-5673edf2d127_story.html

 What Happened When a baby Girl Got a Heart Transplant From a Baboon, TIME, October 26, 2015, https://time.com/4086900/baby-fae-history/

Pence, Gregory, Classic Cases in Medical Ethics, McGraw-Hill, Boston, 1990, https://web.archive.org/web/20160418213419/http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~bwrobert/teaching/mm/articles/Pence2004_Ch14.pdf

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The Curse of the Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond’s story begins over a billion years ago, when carbon under immense pressure formed the larger diamond from which the Hope Diamond would spring. Not only was the mother stone large, but it was given a rare blue color due to the presence of high amounts of the element boron within the carbon.

The diamond’s story in human hands, as well as the origins of the alleged curse that goes with it, has murky beginnings that date back to the 1600s. French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier acquired the stone around the 1660s while in India. It is thought to have been originally mined from the Kollur mine in the Gunter district of Andhra Pradesh. Who originally owned the gem is unknown. Tavernier is believed to have possibly acquired the diamond through theft. Unconfirmed accounts stated that the original form of the Hope Diamond was as stolen from a statue of Sita, the goddess wife of Rama, who was the seventh Avatar of Vishnu. Thus, setting the curse in motion. Whether or not it was Tavernier or someone else who allegedly plucked the stone from the statue is lost to history.

What was confirmed is that Tavernier came back to Paris with the precursor to the Hope Diamond, a loosely triangular stone of an astounding 115 carats. This became known as the “Tavernier Blue.” He subsequently sold the diamond to Louis XIV. The details of the sale vary, and may have involved several other gems as well. Louis XIV had the stone recut, asking the court gem master to “make him a piece to remember.” Work on the stone took two years. This yielded a 67-carat stone known thereafter as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France, or simply, the “French Blue.”

Louis XIV’s great-grandson, Louis XV, had the piece affixed to a more complex pendant, but it fell into disuse after his death. Eventually the stone was owned by Louis XVI, and was thought to have been worn by his wife, Marie Antoinette. Reports cast doubt on this, as the stone’s pendant was supposedly reserved for the King, but the events to come nonetheless launched the notion of the curse.

The French Revolution was set in motion, and Louis XVI and family were put in prison during the “Reign of Terror.” While they were imprisoned, thieves broke into the Royal Storehouse and made off with the Crown Jewels. Some would later be recovered, but the French Blue was not. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were killed by guillotine in 1793, severing the necks from which many of the Crown Jewels once hung.

The French Blue was likely smuggled to London on the heels of being stolen in France, and remained at large for some time. In this period the Hope Diamond was thought to be cut from it. This was confirmed in 2008, when a leaden model of the French Blue was rediscovered in the archives of the National Museum of History in Paris. Details from the leaden model matched those from the Hope Diamond perfectly. It was also discovered that the French Blue had also been roughly recut along the way, and that this work on the stone visibly changed its character.

It was in 1812 that the earliest date of the existence of the Hope Diamond, as cut from the French Blue, was confirmed. London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason described the stone as a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats.” In the ensuing years, until 1830, the gem was thought to have been owned by George IV of the U.K. No records of his ownership exist in the Royal Archives at Windsor, but the consensus is that he owned it. It may have been sold to cover his debts. In any case, next up in the chain of ownership was London banker Thomas Hope, who acquired the diamond for either $65,000 or $90,000, depending on reports. The gem appeared in a published catalog of Hope’s gem collection, and it was then that it became known as the “Hope Diamond.”

When Hope died in 1839, his heirs fought an extended legal battle over the stone. Henry Thomas Pope, his nephew, eventually inherited it. He displayed it in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1855. His wife Anne Adele inherited the gem when Hope died in 1862, and it bounced around among new owners for several more decades, many of which had marriage and financial troubles and had to sell the stone to cover debts. This burnished the story of the curse.

At some point in the early 1900s the Hope Diamond made its way from the U.K. to New York with Simon Frankel, a famous diamond dealer. But Frankel’s business fell on hard times. He referred to the stone as the “hoodoo diamond.” He then sold the diamond for $400,000, about $11 million dollars today, through an intermediary to Sultan Abdulhamid of the Ottoman Empire. He, too, ran into financial problems, and his reign faltered, causing him to sell the stone.

In 1914 it fell into the hands of familiar name in the jewelry world – Pierre Cartier. Cartier would in turn woo Washington, D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband, Edward Beale McLean – heir to The Washington Post and Cincinnati Enquirer fortune – to buy the Hope Diamond from him.  Cartier tried several times to get Mrs. McLean to buy the diamond, and she eventually did purchase it from him, but only after Cartier had it reset to her liking. The sale was the subject of an article in the New York Times in which the newspaper claimed that the McLeans had tried to back out of the deal after learning about the curse. Other accounts claim that the McLeans had fabricated the story of their fear of the curse to increase the value of their purchase.

Mrs. McLean’s eccentric ways and how they manifested themselves with the diamond became the stuff of legend. She would wear the diamond around her neck around town, and even around the neck of her Great Dane, Mike. Guests at the McLeans’ parties would be treated to “find the stone” games, as Mrs. McLean would hide it on their property and challenge guests to locate it. McLean even hired a former Secret Service man to provide security during these events. Another story tells of Mrs. McLean hosting guests at her house one evening and asking somebody to turn the record player on – one of the Gramophone models with the enormous horn. Upon being told the record player wasn’t working properly, Mrs. McLean remembered that she put the diamond in the horn.

Mrs. McLean called on another well-known woman who lived near her in the wealthy playground of Aiken, South Carolina, named Eulalie Salley. She asked Mrs. Salley, a suffragist and incidentally the first woman in South Carolina to be granted a real estate license, if she would like to come over to see the Hope Diamond. Mrs. Salley jumped at the chance. After arriving at the McLean’s home, Mrs. Salley was surprised to be led to Mrs. McLean’s bedroom, against the mores of the day. Mrs. McLean reached in her stocking drawer, pulled out a stocking, and out fell the Hope Diamond. Incredulous, Mrs. Salley stated “Mrs. McLean, you’re keeping the most famous gemstone in the world in your underpants? To which Mrs. McLean allegedly replied, “My Dear, at my age, who is going to look there?”

Mrs. McLean was friends with President Warren G. Harding. They had a mutual friend named Gaston Means, who was a former Bureau of Investigation officer. When Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped, Mr. Means told Mrs. McLean that he knew where the baby was being held. In exchange for $100,000 from Ms. McLean, he claimed that he could get the baby back, and in turn Mrs. McLean and he would be heroes. She was to find out it was a cruel hoax. Means made off with the money – the kidnapped baby was already dead.

And so went so much of Mrs. McLean’s life after buying the Hope Diamond. In addition to the Lindbergh baby fiasco, two of the McLeans’ children died young, Mr. McLean was committed to an asylum in his 40s, and the diamond had to be sold upon her death to cover her estate’s debts. Hope Diamond Curse aficionados naturally attribute all of this to the diamond.

The trustees of her estate sold the stone to Harry Winston, a diamond merchant in New York. In fact, he bought all of McLeans’ jewelry. Winston displayed the Hope Diamond during a tour of the United States with his extensive jewel collection. He also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet redone to increase the gem’s sparkle.

Years later, the Smithsonian talked Winston into donating the stone to their proposed gem collection. And on November 10, 1958, Winston agreed. But he did not have security transport the stone, nor did he personally hand deliver it. Winston sent the Hope Diamond through the U.S. Mail as you would any package, without any fanfare or even mentioning it to the postal service. Simply popped it in a box and mailed it off.

The stone arrived as planned, but the mailman who delivered it, James Todd, had his leg crushed in an accident not long after, the last significant event in the alleged curse.

Winston never believed in the curse. And he lived a long healthy life with no undue bad luck apparent during his lifetime.

The Diamond has been the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s gem collection, greatly increasing attendance and thrilling guests for decades since. It is said to be insured for $250 million. You can still see it there today. Seemingly curse free.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/archaeology/curse-of-the-mummy/ (retrieved August 26, 2020).

https://bleacherreport.com/articles/375113-top-mlb-superstitions-and-rituals (retrieved August 26, 2020).

Bull Cooper, Emily L. 2005. Eulalie. The Aiken Partnership Of The University Of South Carolina Educational Foundation; 2nd Edition, 163 pp.

Gregory, J. 2011. The Hope Diamond: Evalyn Walsh McLean and the Captivating Mystery of the World’s Most Alluring Jewel. Turner, 96 pp.

Kurin, R. 2006. The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. Smithsonian Books, 400 pp.

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