Pediatrician tells COVID-19 story through son's eyes

by Nebraska Medicine | May 14, 2020

Image with caption: Samantha Rohe, M.D.

Samantha Rohe, M.D.

Even though she's thought about writing a children's book before, it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic that Samantha Rohe, M.D., pediatrician at Nebraska Medicine and UNMC assistant professor of Pediatrics, decided to pursue it.

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Sophie Cemaj

"My 4-year-old son, Henry, had lots of questions," Dr. Rohe said. "Like 'why can't I see the virus?' I decided to create something to help him understand what was happening."

As she worked on her drafts, Dr. Rohe would read them aloud to Henry and make adjustments. She also shared her draft with friends and her sister, who is a teacher, for feedback. Those friends read it to their children, too.

Through mutual acquaintances, Dr. Rohe met Sophie Cemaj, a UNMC medical student, who agreed to illustrate the book for her.

"I've always loved to doodle, but in medical school, I didn't have time for that," Cemaj said. "I decided to create illustrations for my honors EMET project in the Humanities and Arts, and I taught myself how to digitally illustrate. I applied those skills to the book and drew inspiration for the characters from my family and friends. Dr. Sammy in the book is based off my dad (Samuel Cemaj, M.D.), a trauma surgeon at Nebraska Medicine/UNMC.

Pediatrician's books educate children about disease prevention

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An image by Sophie Cemaj from the Spanish-language version of the book by Samantha Rohe, M.D.

"Dr. Rohe and I worked really well together and were able to pull off making this book in two short weeks," Cemaj said. "She treated me like an equal throughout the process and that created an environment where we were able to cultivate ideas and apply them to the book." 

"The whole idea behind this was to create something for my kids, but also, to create something that could be a resource for our patients and families," Dr. Rohe said.

In the midst of the project, Dr. Rohe's division chief told her about a creative writing contest Emory University was hosting. The winner receives $10,000 and Emory also publishes the writing. They decided to submit the book for consideration, but unfortunately, it was not selected. Dr. Rohe is working to find a platform to self-publish.

For parents concerned about their children's well-being during this uncertain time, Dr. Rohe says communication is key.

"The biggest thing you can do is talk with them," she said. "When my son would ask me questions, I didn't understand how he was perceiving all of this. He thinks everything in his life is related to the coronavirus. For example, he thought he could get coronavirus for getting in trouble or getting a timeout."

Dr. Rohe hopes this book helps parents talk to their kids. Read the book in English or Spanish. The book is copyrighted, no part may be reproduced or modified in any form, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the authors.

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Julie Phillips
May 26, 2020 at 11:58 AM

I read this to my 5 year old grand daughter and she loved it! She asks to read it over and over. She loves the illustrations and feels more confident as she understands Covid -19 better.

Chad Abresch
May 14, 2020 at 7:08 AM

Thank you Dr. Rohe and Sophie! My 6-year-old daughter and I read it this morning to critical acclaim! :)