Podcast Episode 45 | There is Strength in Scars: Creating Books with a Purpose

with Dr. Maria Baimas-George, Surgical Resident at Atrium Health Care

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The Prosperous Doc® podcast by Spaugh Dameron Tenny highlights real-life stories from doctors and dentist to encourage and inspire listeners through discussions of professional successes and failures in addition to personal stories and financial wellness advice.

Shane Tenny, CFP® is our podcast host and Partner at SDT. He has lectured numerous times for hospitals and physician groups and, most importantly, helped hundreds of clients develop strategies to navigate through turbulent times toward their financial goals.

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Full Transcript

Dr. Baimas-George [00:00] I thought about that a little bit, about us explaining your scars. And then, It sort of just came to me like "scars should be embraced." It shows that we have overcome adversity.


Intro [00:12] From Spaugh Dameron Tenny - it's the Prosperous Doc Podcast. Real stories. Real inspiration. Real growth. A show for doctors who are ready to improve their overall wellness in every aspect of life. Now here's your host, Shane Tenny. 


Shane Tenny [00:30] Well, if you have children who've ever needed medical attention, or hospitalization, or maybe even a vaccine. Or if you're a provider who takes care of children [then] you know that explaining a concussion or a hernia, or a vaccination can be confusing and scary and complicated. [It makes me] think of four years ago having to take our middle son to the hospital, which turned into a weeklong stay. [He was] confused about what's happening and why is it taking so long. "I feel fine; why am I even here?" And these are tough issues.


Shane Tenny [01:12] I'm excited because my guest today on the Prosperous Doc Podcast is kind of speaking exactly to this situation. I'm here with Doctor Maria Bamais-George, a surgery resident with Atrium Health Care in Charlotte, North Carolina. And as if being a surgery resident doesn't keep her busy enough, somehow this topic of speaking to children has become such a passion and falls in her talent suite. She is making the time to author and illustrate an entire series of children's books aimed at helping to explain and calm their fears about things going on in their bodies. Whether it requires a hospital stay or just a procedure with their pediatrician, it is something that is really filling a void.


Shane Tenny [02:08] I'm excited to hear about your story. I'm excited to hear about the research that's gone on and share it with our listeners today. So, Doctor Baimas-George, thanks so much for being with us on the podcast today.


Dr. Baimas-George [02:19] Thank you so much for having me. I feel very grateful and honored to be invited to join you.


Shane Tenny [02:24] Well, you've got a great story to tell. So, before I ask you even about just your medical training and what brought you into medicine, I want to ask you, when did you learn or become fascinated with writing stories or drawing and art?


Dr. Baimas-George [02:38] So that's actually been since I was (per my mother) since I was in almost preschool, if not younger. I started writing at a really early age. I think it was like two-years-old or so. I was a little bit, I think a smidge advanced. That tampered off, don't worry. But I was a smidge advanced initially. So, I was obsessed with writing stories, and I thought up until maybe high school I thought I was going to be an author. So, my mom has boxes of stories that I used to write when I was little, ranging from like elves and who knows what. So that was always something I had been passionate about [but] it taped off. I always loved my English classes and it's kind of reemerged I will say. 


Shane Tenny [03:25] Well and somewhere in there I hear you learned how to sketch and draw and paint.


Dr. Baimas-George [03:29] So that sort of happened on accident too. My mom is actually this incredible artist. She is a lawyer. A recently retired lawyer. She is an incredible artist and paints the most beautiful things. So that kind of...I was kind of born into that talent a little bit. I like to draw every now and again, but I never took art classes. And then in medical school, I started drawing a little bit more for a way to destress. So my drawings are very amateur. Like, there's no perspective. I don't know how to draw well at all but they work I think for their purpose, for children's literature I guess.


Shane Tenny [04:09] And so I guess if you were saying in high school you were thinking "I'll be an author." Somewhere there you kind of get the bug and think...I think maybe I'll go into medicine. What triggered that?


Dr. Baimas-George [04:20] So, I'm not even sure when that initially got triggered. I always loved science. So, I also loved to write and I also loved to do all sorts of experiments. And my mom would get me all the chemistry kits and what not when I was little. And in...I always took science classes in high school and those were my favorite classes. And then in college, I just kind of started along the pre-medicine track. And I don't remember what was really the breaking point or that turning point where I was like "I want to be a doctor." But in between actually college and medical school, I knew I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I wasn't 100% sure. And so, I did a couple years working in a hospital doing some research in the hospital setting to see if it was something I truly loved and I did. So, I went to medical school. Just growing up, I loved English and I loved science and then now I feel like they are merging which is wonderful.


Shane Tenny [05:16] Yeah, I was going to say now you've got two jobs. And….and so tell me was there an experience in medical school or as you began your residency that kind of brought these two things together for you?


Dr. Baimas-George [05:31] Yeah so, when I was on the pediatric surgery service which we rotate on as interns and in my first year of residency ultimately. I saw...you know there were a lot of different instances where I felt like either parents or children didn't understand what was going on. And I think we never mean to do this but as doctors, we go to med school for four years and in those four years, we're kind of learning another language. And then parents or patients and families come in and we try to explain to them what's going on in this other language. They're already fearful and anxious. That can kind of compound this issue of trying to bridge off trying to….I think I feel like it's a language barrier. But I really saw that, and I felt like there were a lot of [instances] even when doctors were very thorough and I feel like the information given could seem very comprehensive to me, but it wasn't meeting the needs of the patient and the family members per say. It felt like they still weren't understanding what was going on. 


Dr. Baimas-George [06:40] And so, I just kind of looked up to see if there were other resources available. And I'm a very visual person so I was looking for kids...hey there are children's books that talk about some of these common things, and I couldn't find anything. And so that kind of spurred me on to consider creating my own. And you know there were a few particular...I would say instances. One I remember was there was a new mom, and her baby was born with something called Gastroschisis which is basically the abdominal wall does not close in birth so the baby's born with their intestines outside of their abdominal wall. And I remember [that] she refused to see her baby after her birth until after we were completely done with all the surgical stuff. So, the dad was just at the bedside with the baby. The mom was so scared of all the baby looked and fearful and she didn't want to see her baby at all. And I think, you know, gastroschisis is something that most of the time is pretty straightforward and easy to fix and the baby will do absolutely fine. And that's information that if we could give it to her in a less scary way and really emphasize what's going on and help her understand it then maybe she wouldn't have been as fearful and nervous. 


Shane Tenny [08:01] What was the first topic that you decided to undertake from a research [standpoint]?


Dr. Baimas-George [08:09] So, it was actually Gastroschisis because of that [story]. And so, I initially started off with a couple NICU stories. So, it was instances in the Neonatal ICU or the NICU that really initially spurred my interest. So, I started off with three of those. And all of those are very rare. So, then I kind of bridged out by...I thought if I want to actually see if these have benefit, I need to do something that's more common so I can study it. And so, then I went into the first kind of common one that I wrote per say would be the appendicitis which was a fun one. 


Shane Tenny [08:40] What sort of research did you have to do to find that balance between being clinically accurate or accurate enough but also easy to understand and illustrate? How do you find that balance and what research have you had to do for the different categories?


Dr. Baimas-George [09:02] So, I feel like it actually comes fairly easy to me. I feel like I'm pretty...I don't want to say [I'm] childish person but I feel like I can relate to children pretty well and some of my tendencies I have [are childlike] like I have a childlike curiosity. I love Disney movies. I feel like I can relate to children very well. And so, when I think of a metaphor per say, I feel like it comes pretty easy to me to think of something that at least I think that kids can understand well, and how I can connect that with the clinical information. Research wise, you know, a lot of these topics are stuff that I deal with often in residency. So, there was the overall concept and creating a story that connects with it that [didn't need] much research for that. So, like, with the appendicitis [story], you know that angry part of your intestines that looks like a worm and so it was easy for me to say "okay, I'm going to make this an angry worm in your belly," you know? 


Dr. Baimas-George [10:04] But I always do research at the end. I always put like a fact section [with] you know, doctor words and extra stuff for parents, and that I always triple, double check [with] like credited resources that we have. And then I always have my attending pediatric surgeon, or my mentor Dr. Sandy (unintelligible) go through it and make sure that I'm not missing anything crucial. 


Shane Tenny [10:22] It's a great communication principle I think that you are raising which of course is essential in the project you're undertaking, which is finding that metaphor to explain things and I thought as I was looking over your content and [the] angry worm for appendicitis or the invasive ivy for the cancer. [It's] a great communication skill even for your colleagues out there who don't have the words to write a story but think "how can I explain this in a way that doesn't feel as threatening and is more easily comprehended." So, by now, and I realize that we've got this far in the interview, and I haven't mentioned the series. You eventually gave a title to this which is "The Strength of My Scars." How'd you come up with that title, which I think is such a great one?


Dr. Baimas-George [11:08] So, when I was...again when I kind of initially thought of the idea for the books, it was the patients that were in the NICU. And one of the reasons I also wanted to create them for NICU babies was [that] I can't imagine growing up and having a big scar on my belly and you know, you don't remember where that came from. You were a brand-new baby and [trying] understanding where your scars came from. And I thought, this could be another good resource for later in life for parents, who again, may not have fully understood it when it happened as well. So, this is something you can have to show your kids later on and say
"this is why you have those scars." I thought about that a little bit about explaining your scars and then it sort of just came to me like 'scars should be embraced. It shows that we've overcome an adversity. We've overcome obstacles and we should embrace them rather than be ashamed of them and I wanted to emphasize that to kids too because it's important to realize that even if there's something that makes you a little bit different or stand out amongst your peers, it's not something to be ashamed of. So "The Strength of My Scars" I think speaks to that.


Shane Tenny [12:16] Did that title for the series you're creating, did that come to you kind of at stage one when you were thinking of the first book or did that come when you realize that 'oh I think I'm going to be doing a series here.?


Dr. Baimas-George [12:28] For the first book, pretty much when I started it, I knew I was going to do multiple, because I had so many that I wanted to write. And so, I was like, "if I can do this in a way that I think will be useful and fun and helpful, I have all these that I want to write." So, it was pretty quick that I was like, you know, it'd be pretty cool to call it "The Strengths of My Scars" and kind of formatted it in such a way.


Shane Tenny [12:50] What was the response of your colleagues when you started saying "I wrote a coloring book for kids?"


Dr. Baimas-George [12:56] I remember when I had the idea. My ideas often come as I'm falling asleep. And I had the idea and I immediately called up my finance and he was like "okay, great idea, we'll see if you think that this is still a good idea in the morning. Goodnight." And then, I remember that I talked to the pediatric surgeons I work with, and I told them about it and they were like 'that's a great idea," like go for it. And then I came back to them a week late...and I move very fast, like when I get an idea and I want to do it, I do it. I do not procrastinate. I get things done pretty quickly. And so, the next week, I had my first book done. And they were like "oh oh okay, you meant that you were going to do this. You were serious." And so, they were surprised but they ultimately really embraced it and have been so supportive. I mean, this series would not have ever gotten to where it is without the support of my pediatric surgeon mentors and the department of surgery at Atrium Health. I cannot express enough, like my gratitude for the support that I've gotten. It's been very well received. I kind of call it my side hustle and it's definitely weird and different for a surgery resident to be doing this but it has been embraced and people have been wonderful about it.


Shane Tenny [14: 22] Yeah, we've done a lot of episodes on side gigs and things like that. It's pretty unusual for the hospital system that you're affiliated with to be such a big supporter of what you're doing. I know Atrium Health has even helped provide a grant to help facilitate the work. Tell me a little about that process or how that's helped.


Dr. Baimas-George [14:42] So that was actually, I think, the big stepping stone that got all of this really moving forward for me. So, I created a bunch of new books, and I didn't really know what to do with them. And I thought that they would help but I couldn't say that for sure. I reached out to publishers actually and I got shot down [by] probably over 70 times. It was pretty depressing. I got a couple of personal responses being like "this is cool, but we don't know what to do with this. We don't know how to market these to hospitals and it's a cool idea, but I'm going to pass." And so, I kind of got, there was like a period of time where I was still drawing and thinking of ideas, but I wasn't as I would say passionate and gung-ho about it because it felt like it was fizzling out. And I didn't think that I would be able to get these to people. I'm on a resident's salary. There's no way I can self-publish them on my own. 


[15:36] And so, one of my mentors here is Doctor Brent Matthews. He's the Chairman of Surgery and he's an incredible human being. And so, I had a meeting with him for something else and it came up and he brought up an idea to apply for a grant through our department and to study the book and see if there's real benefit. And so, I put in an application, and I got approved and they sponsored me to start printing these books and to start studying them in a randomized fashion which is pretty incredible. And so, once I started studying them, I kind of did this study over the past year and we saw significant benefit and satisfaction and comprehension or understanding and apprehension or stress in caregivers and parents of patients undergoing common pediatric surgeries. And so, when I saw that benefit that's what then turned me...like kind of reinvigorated me. So, like if these really do have a benefit, I want to get them out there and I want to help. So, that pushed me to take these next steps and kind of jump in and take a risk and create this website. [I'm] not completely on my own. I've had a lot of help. You know, without a publisher backing or sort of an enterprise backing per say. 


Shane Tenny [17:03] We've got to take a quick break and then I want to ask you a little bit about the research and the impact you're beginning to see from this thing that really just started as a passion of yours. We'll be right back. 


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Shane Tenny [18:48] So, before the break we are speaking before are after the break with Dr. Bamias-George, surgery at Atrium Health here at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and she is the author - as I said before the break - of this children's book series called "Strength of My Scars," that talks about different medical issues that children sometimes come across to help alleviate their fears and their parent's fears and the fears of the caregivers. Maria, you were saying just before the break how Atrium has been so supportive to you, and in fact, supported and endorsed the idea, [or] rather subsidized the idea of doing research on the impact of the books. And so, I just want to unpack that a little bit. 


Shane Tenny [19:28] So, you had at that time, which sounds like it was just a couple years ago, you had a couple of topics that you'd written about and so you basically had a control group of patients going through a procedure without the benefit of your explanation through the book. And then some patients who went through this. And then there was some survey given to identify their outcomes? 


Dr. Baimas-George [19:50] Yeah, so any patient who came in with a [one of the conditions] in the range that we studied, I chose one of the books that were the most common with pediatric patients. So [that was] appendicitis, we had ruptured appendicitis, umbilical hernia, needs for feeding tubes, and those were the ones we chose initially. 


Dr. Baimas-George [20:15] So, the patient came in and had a caregiver present. And we chose to study the caregivers because the range of ages for the pediatric patients….that would introduce a lot of what we call "compounded things," because some kids can obviously understand more than others depending on their age. And so, caregivers who were present and wanted to participate, they were randomized to either the control group which they did not get a book or the experimental group [in] which they got a book. 


Dr. Baimas-George [20:43] And so, they would fill out a survey before and it would be a survey that just kind of asked about if they understood, did they feel like they understood the condition and what their child was going through on a scale of like 1 to 10. It was pretty [a] simple [set of] questionnaires that was very general that was validated in other surgical populations. 


Dr. Baimas-George [21:05] And, then they would get the book, or not. And then they would fill out the same survey, after surgery and before they left the hospital. And then we compared the two populations and [we came to the conclusion that] the book helped a lot. And that was really rewarding to see. Again, it really spurred me further and more like reinvigorated me because if these can help a little bit, it's a simple thing in the grand scheme of things. It's a simple book but if it can make a difference, that would be amazing. 


Shane Tenny [21:35] You described how your initial idea kind of gave birth to a realization of "okay, let's cover things that have a broader impact or are more common." Going forward, since I can feel your energy and there's a feeling that the sky’s the limit here. As the issues are what's wrong with kids, there's no limit. How are you deciding what topics to do next? What's books number 20 and 21? Or do you take requests? What do write them on the back of a $20 bill and mail them in or something?


Dr. Baimas-George [22:05] So, I've kind of done a mixture of that. I have a book list of like 50 plus ideas that I want to cover, and I recently skiing actually with some friends. And one of them is an orthopedic surgeon and his sister was there and she's a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and so we kind of talked about orthopedic surgery issues which is not any…. I'm not an orthopedic surgeon. I don't understand that stuff at all. But that's a whole other range of topics. And so, that's something I've actually added to my list. And I actually started one of those books but with the caveat that all of it's going to be reviewed by an orthopedic surgeon. It'll be like a co-written thing. That was kind of a request. 


Dr. Baimas-George [22:53] But when I think of my next book, I'll usually look at my list and be like "what's exciting me right now?" I did the other day write a vaccine book because I feel like with the certain times, that's really relevant. And I had talked to a pediatrician who I know through the hospital, and she had said that that could be a book that's really useful for her patients. And so, you know, that's not a surgical book but it's very relevant. I think it could, you know, help a lot of patients. So, I was like, "you know, that will be a fun one to do." And so yeah, it's kind of a mix. It's whatever's exciting me at that time. Something that generates [a] fun idea that I can see myself enjoying drawing but also what I think could help out a lot of kids. 


Shane Tenny [23:35] Does each book have its own metaphor and storyline and things like that? Or do you have some favorite characters that you use? 


Dr. Baimas-George [23:43] Yeah so, most of them have their own storyline and their characters are separate, but there is one character that has come back twice, and her name is Bev, and she is a superhero, and she's based off one of my favorite attendings. And so, she has the idea and she is also one of my absolute best friends. She had this idea that...for the ostomy book. And so, ostomies are when you pull up a piece of the intestines to the skin and there's a poop bag at your skin level. And so, that's a scary thing for kids. Particularly, when it's new. A lot of kids and, you know, if you have an ostomy bag, it's something that your friends may or may not know about. It might be something that - hopefully not - you could feel ashamed of, and we don't want you to. And so, the whole thought was to create something in this book where this superhero has an ostomy and it's showing that this superhero is so good at everything and and everything even with an ostomy and everyone loves her with her ostomy. And so, I loved that, so I made that attending that character. The best part was that afterwards people were like "I didn't know person x had an ostomy.”


Dr. Baimas-George [24:56] And then so, with the vaccine book, I thought it would be cool to do the same superhero character because I really liked that character. But in general, each book is its own story, its own set of characters, and the reason I do that is I really want a diverse set of people to be represented in these books. So, I've been trying to do just, you know, a diverse range of characters so that kids all over can say "hey, that looks like me," or "I know people like that," or "that's exactly like me," instead of just having one type of character. 


Shane Tenny [25:31] And plus, if we put superhero Bev in too many of the books, the royalties would get kind of ridiculous. 


Dr. Baimas-George [25:37] Absolutely. Which is a problem.


Shane Tenny [25:40] Talk a little bit about the process, you mentioned early that the niche of the books not being a fit for the kind of mass publishers. And so, right now, people can order your books through the website. We're going to shout that out by the end of the episode. And they're basically being self-published or auto-published as they're needed. How does that work? And are you seeing, or is the thought that caregivers will just order the book as they need it? Or is the thought that hospitals [and] medical systems might put together a little inventory in-house that they can hand out complimentary to parents going through situations like this?


Dr. Baimas-George [26:15] That's my goal, that kind of second part. My goal is to have hospitals, clinics, providers, buy these and give them to their patients and have them as resources for their patients. A lot of, you know, hospitals have a lot of funds actually for medical education and patient education that's actually reimbursed. And so, my goal is… that maybe this could be something that could be, you know, it's not your typical pamphlet, obviously. I do think it would, like I said, I really believe in these. And I would rather it be bought by a hospital and given to a patient than bought by a patient. 


Dr. Baimas-George [26:57] However, we're also going to have them available for purchase, like you said, we have a website now. And that way, I think as a kid growing up who was interested in science, I had no idea what a surgeon even was. What [the] different specialties of surgeons were. I had no idea of any of that stuff. There aren't many children's books about this. So, I think there is...my other thought process for the book is they're interested books for kids who are just interested in medicine and science. And me as a kid, and I'm the one writing them, I feel like I would've liked them as a kid. 


Dr. Baimas-George [27:31] So, I think that's another reason for having them be available online, on our website, for individual purposes as well.


Shane Tenny [27:38] Gotcha. But, yeah, the real vision is really to have bulk sales and you mentioned your friends that are orthopedists and so we want their practice to stock up on them.


Dr. Baimas-George [27:48] Exactly. Or, you know, have them in a hospital gift shop, so it's like you go in and you're going to visit your friend who has X and you stop at the shop and you see there's a book about that that you can give them. So, it's something that's easily available for patients instead of you coming into the hospital with appendicitis and retroactively you're ordering the book. I'd rather it be, you came in with appendicitis, and in the ED you get the book. It actually helps you then. 


Shane Tenny [28:16] Right, right. How long does it take you to move from idea to finished product? You said when you focus on something, it kind of gets done.


Dr. Baimas- George [28:24] Yeah. So, usually a weekend for a book. 


Shane Tenny [28:30] A weekend? That'd be a perfect solution to expect another 52 over the next year?


Dr. Baimas-George [28:35] So, I have to have the weekend off though. That's the caveat. But usually I'll think of the idea [and] the stories are pretty easy to write. They're fun to write. And then, the drawings are what takes the longest, but they're such simple drawings, and like I said, I am an amateur artist, so I have no perspective and these drawings are just fun for me and they're simple watercolors. Pencils, watercolor, and then pen. And so, they don't take long. And then, honestly, the longest part is then sending it to my sister to read over for grammar mistakes, but she does it really fast so it's like the edit process. 


Shane Tenny [29:15] So, you are pretty much living proof that whether you are in medicine or not, the truth is busy people get stuff done. 


Dr. Baimas-George [29:22] Yeah. I do enjoy it so it's like you know, some people go home and watch TV and relax. I do like drawing and so it doesn't feel like work to me. 


Shane Tenny [29:32] So, Maria, what's next? What do you see as the next step? Just adding more and more topics to the inventory? Is it spreading the word? Is it going on the Oprah show? What do you see as the next chapter in this side hustle?


Dr. Baimas-George [29:47] So, I feel super fortunate that I'm very close to my sister. She's like less than two years older than me and she has an MBA and a Masters in Education. And she recently left her job in finance to help me do this. Literally, last week. I love to operate. I love surgery. Like, love it, love it, love it. I could not live without the OR. And so, I love doing this but there's no way I can do this on my own. I absolutely can't. I can create these books in my spare time but the part where it's reaching out to hospitals and creating this website. I could not have done this without the help of my family and my sister. So, the next step is my sister [is going to] kind of try to do the business side of it and see if we can get hospitals interested in acquiring them and give them to their patients. I'm going to continue to operate and draw my books. So, I feel just so fortunate that I get to do the fun part, or what I consider the fun part and my sister is gonna [help] and my parents as well, they've been absolutely incredible. And so, I'm very fortunate.


Shane Tenny [31:00] That is fantastic. So, let's give the official shout out. So, hopefully, we've got colleagues listening to our podcast. Hopefully, we've got some hospital administrators. Some practice administrators. How can people learn more about you and learn more about Strength of My Scars? 


Dr. Baimas-George [31:18] Absolutely. So our website is www.StrengthOfMyScars.com. And we have a good amount of information on there. Kind of goes into our research and you can always email us for more details on the research. It has a little bit about my story and Dr. Dan Bandini who has been helping me as a mentor, his story, and all the books that we currently have available. And give you a little sneak peek into each one. I hope it's helpful. 


Shane Tenny [31:48] Absolutely. Well, I am excited myself to know about the resource. Again, it's www, do we even have to say the W's anymore? We're in 2021, people know [what WWW stands for]. So anyway, StrengthOfMyScars.com. Check it out there. Maria, thanks so much for making time in the midst of what I know is a really busy schedule you're keeping right now. It's been great having you on.


Dr. Baimas-George [32:20] Thank you so much. I've enjoyed this a lot and I really appreciate it. 


Shane Tenny [32:34] Thank you for joining us for this episode of Prosperous Doc Podcast. Special thanks to our producer, Joannah Long, for her brilliance of finding awesome guests like Dr. Bamias-George. Special thanks to the folks at Lawpods who clean up and edit our podcast to make them sound good. And I say this at the end of every episode, but I really do appreciate if this has been helpful to you, would you mind subscribing to the podcast? Even if you don't listen to every one, when you subscribe, it actually improves the algorithms on Google Play and iTunes so that our show surfaces to the top more when folks are looking for topics like the one we tackled today. So, we appreciate that. And as always, if you or a friend of yours has a cool side hustle or a story to tell that would be inspirational to your colleagues and white coats, would you email me directly. It's Shane@WhiteCoatWell.com. Thanks so much, we'll see you back here next time.


Outro [33:17] This episode of The Prosperous Doc podcast is over, but you're not alone on your journey. Spaugh Dameron Tenny has been helping physicians and dentists prosper through financial planning for over 60 years to connect with us, visit sdtplanning.com today and take your financial wellness to new levels. Join us on the next episode of The Prosperous Doc podcast.