Caterpillars are born without wings. And in some way or another, that’s how we are all born.

I was born with a heart defect. My earliest memory is of curling up in my mother’s lap with a picture book called Grover Goes to the Hospital. Throughout my childhood, my mother was careful to describe my condition with gentle, precise language. My heart was never ‘broken’ and surgery didn’t ‘fix’ me. Instead, it gave my body the help it needed to run, laugh, and play. My condition was a fact, not a burden. This book and her kind words helped me to understand my body and myself.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that I fell in love with stories, with their power to comfort, entertain, educate, and heal. I started writing my own stories, hoping that they could help people through their own struggles.

To the left, a brown-haired little Deanna wraps her arms around her baby sister. They’re sitting on a deck outside. It’s a few weeks after Deanna’s open heart surgery. This experience inspired Deanna to write Chrysalis.

Years later, my cousin Kaley also needed to have heart surgery. At first, I searched for a book to give her, a story that would help her understand her experience in the same way that Grover helped me to understand mine. But most of the books were picture books, and there were none written for teenagers with developmental disabilities.

I knew what I needed to do: I would make her a book myself. I spent weeks immersed in research about pediatric operations, parenting guides about talking with children about surgery, and conversations with my mom about what my own operation had been like. My story paralleled a fable about a young caterpillar who needs help forming his chrysalis; with help from the kind Dr. Dawn, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. In the end, Kaley loved the book, and continued to read it even after her surgery had passed. I began to wonder if the book might help other kids too, and Kaley generously agreed to share the story.

I’m not Dr. Dawn; I can’t turn caterpillars into butterflies. But I hope my stories can help people find their wings, equipping them with the information and resources they need to fly. 

Want to learn more?

Chrysalis is now available on Amazon.

Resources for Pediatric Hospitalizations

Behind the Scenes: Chrysalis and Public Health Theory