Superhero Katie Kate helps children in crisis

Lafayette doctor writes children’s books explaining medical conditions

In the children’s book, “The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions about Cancer,” superhero Katie Kate swoops in, just as another little girl learns she may have cancer.

Another character has appeared, too: a large, woeful looking Worry Wombat.

“If you ask enough questions and smile whenever you can, the Worry Wombat will shrink and disappear,” Katie Kate tells the little girl.

By the end of the book, the Worry Wombat has disappeared.

The book and others in the “Great Katie Kate” series were written by a Lafayette physician as a means to empower children facing illness.

Dr. M. Maitland DeLand, a radiation oncologist, drew on her experience both as a physician and as the single mother of children with chronic medical conditions to create the book series.

Children who are ill need to know that “they’re an important part of the whole picture, and they need to understand what’s happening to themselves,” DeLand said.

DeLand’s first book about cancer, published in 2010, was followed in the same year by one about Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes.

The two hardback books, each $14.95, are available through major booksellers.

A third book in the Katie Kate series, about asthma, will be published later this summer, and another one, about epilepsy, is due to be published in the fall. The newest books in the series will be paperback.

The books, published by Greenleaf Book Group Press and bolstered by colorful art by illustrator Jennifer Zivoin, explain the various health conditions and their treatment in clear and concise language that’s as helpful to adults as to children.

DeLand, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., and raised in Baltimore, joined a medical practice in Lafayette in 1982, at the age of 27.

At the time, while there were educational videos for adult patients, DeLand saw that “there really were not any child-friendly, family-friendly videos for children with cancer,” DeLand said.

DeLand’s son and daughter, both in college, are doing well and managing chronic health conditions. Her son has Type 1 diabetes and epilepsy, and her daughter has asthma and severe allergies, DeLand said.

DeLand said that she’s lived both sides of the health equation, especially when her children were little: “I was on the receiving end of news, and here I am a doctor talking to parents” about their children, she said.

In medical settings, “frequently the child feels at a disadvantage,” DeLand said.

Children, though, “are more intelligent than we give them credit for, more curious,” said DeLand, who is chairwoman of the Health Education Authority of Louisiana, a quasi-governmental agency that promotes the public’s health and welfare.

Parents don’t have to give every detail, but they need to be honest with their children facing medical situations, she said.

She remembers an incident at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she had taken her son for an appointment at a young age, when a little girl came out into the waiting room upset with her mother.

“You told me I was taking a test!” the child cried to her mother. “I thought (the doctor would ask me) if I had been eating candy.”

The little girl had gotten, not an oral quiz as she’d imagined, but a blood test.

DeLand’s next project will be a book for children and their families taking part in Pathway to Prevention, a family-risk study and entry point into the larger Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet clinical trials. The trials funded by the National Institutes of Health seek ways to prevent the disease, said Eric Pittel with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, one of 14 TrialNet clinical centers in North America. DeLand’s book will help explain the trial process, which includes periodic blood draws, Pittel said, helping children in “overcoming their fear and (explaining) how they are making a difference.”