Helping kids understand

In my previous post I observed that having younger people register as stem cell donors would be important, given that younger donors are generally preferred and provide better outcomes for recipients and also so they are able to be viable donors for a longer period of time. Given this, I was curious if there were any efforts to educate children or youth about the need for donors or about the process so that in the future, as they moved through high school and became eligible to register, they would be more open to the possibility and be advocates within their peer groups. I am not aware of any educational efforts around stem cell, blood or other donation efforts targeted at youth, but it was something I'm still curious about.

Yesterday "Lucia" left a comment on an earlier post about a company called Medikidz that helped educate kids about health issues and, apparently, had really helped her family. While not specifically targeting education around being a stem cell (or other) donor, Medikidz seems to have latched on to an interesting way to help kids understand medical issues generally. The company was founded in New Zealand in 2006 by Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and produces a series of graphic novels geared towards children and designed to teach them about medical issues. The website probably does a better job of describing the concept of the books than I could:

The 'Medikidz' are a gang of 5 larger-than-life superheroes from outer space, which are each specialists in different parts of the body. The characters are designed to be fun and appealing to children in order to be able to entertain, as well as educate them about serious medical issues. They are destined to become characters with whom children can relate, and befriend.

The Medikidz characters live on 'Mediland' - a living, moving planet shaped just like the human body. The children are taught about their own body by going on a personal tour through Mediland. Medikidz is designed specifically for children: therefore we will speak their language, at their level, via comic books, games and an online virtual world.

Medikidz graphic novel about leukemia

The site also has a wiki-like directory of information about large range of drugs and procedures that kids might encounter in facing a variety of illnesses, including lumbar punctures and cyclophosphamide.

Medikidz Ltd. has also established the Medikidz Foundation, a medical children's charity, "in order to redress the paucity of even the most basic medical information in developing countries across Africa, Asia, and other less fortunate parts of the world." It's a registered charity in England and Wales. A portion of profits from the sale of Medikidz graphic novels goes to the distribution of these books in developing countries and, according to the site, eventually to establishing clinics to provide information and support as well as "doing important work through the free treatment of various illnesses."

While the Medikidz seem to be focused more on educating children about their illnesses as opposed to illness in general, they do have information on the site about bone marrow transplant, stem cell transplant, stem cell donors and even GVHD. In addition, they have a graphic novel about leukemia. Presumably the same information would be useful to kids who parents, friends or relatives were ill or understanding illnesses in general and how others can help.

The Medikidz Foundation is focused on helping kids in developing countries learn about their illnesses, but perhaps there is a roll for a foundation to support the education of kids from a variety of ethnic groups in developed countries about health issues faced by children around the world. This might not only plant the seeds for future stem cell, blood or organ donors, but also might encourage children to become advocates more generally and encourage their parents to support causes such as Medikidz or, perhaps even more importantly, be aware of these issues in the political and other decisions they make. Given that it is often a struggle to get Western governments to health issues in the developing world a little push from our kids certainly can't be a bad thing.