New children’s book aims to explain organ donation and transplant

Dr. Bill Wall and Dr. Dave Nagpal

May 31, 2023

“This is a really good story.”

Those were the words from Dr. Bill Wall’s grandson as he was read an early version of the retired transplant surgeon’s new book that helps children understand organ donation and transplantation.

“It convinced me I was on the right track in introducing the concept to young minds,” says Dr. Wall, who is retired from the University Hospital’s Multi-Organ Transplant Program and wrote the newly published children’s book, ‘the ant who needed a transplant.’ 

The book for children aged 5 to 9 blends themes of compassion, empathy and altruism, and is meant to help them learn how an act of kindness can save a life.

Dedicated to donors and the families of donors who have given the gift of life to others, the story follows Russell and Sophie as their father, Papa Ant, falls ill and weakens significantly while waiting for a new heart.

"It's a serious subject," says Dr. Wall, "so I told the story as a fantasy about ants to 'lighten' the nature of the book. There is no mention of anatomy or organs. Nevertheless, it is still an accurate portrayal of the real-life experience of donation and transplantation."

Dr. Wall, who specialized in liver transplants, signed copies of the book for staff of the Multi-Organ Transplant Program who were excited to get their hands on a copy of the book illustrated by Scottish artist Dave Hill. 

First in line at the book signing event attended by about 45 employees was Grant Fisher, a transplant coordinator with the program. “He’s captured what is really the essence of transplant,” says Mr. Fisher, “two families getting together because of tragic circumstances but for a good outcome.”

Mr. Fisher, who worked with Dr. Wall for many years, has done presentations in high schools on transplantation as part of a program started by Dr. Wall. “This book is an extension of his work in a beautiful way.”

One of the program’s medical co-directors, Dr. Dave Nagpal, praised the book saying it’s a great resource for children who are either undergoing a transplant or have a family member who is. “It’s very important to help children understand what is happening in an age-appropriate way to help them fare better if they, or someone in their family, is going through critical illness or transplant,” he explains.

The book is available online through FriesenPress Bookstore, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. So far, 4,000 copies have been printed and sent to school boards across the country for distribution to elementary schools thanks to funding provided by Dr. Calvin Stiller, the visionary behind the creation of the first Canadian Multi-Organ Transplant Program at UH in the 1980s, his wife, Angie, and the Canadian Society of Transplantation.

The charming story has a happy ending for the Ant family. Papa Ant receives a new heart and is able to return to playing with his young children. Wanting to express their appreciation to the donor’s family, little Russell and Sophie create a special card for the donor’s family that says, “thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Cover image for The Ant Who Needed A Transplant book
Cover of 'The ant who needed a transplant' book, written by Dr. Bill Wall and illustrated by Dave Hill