By Aida Rogers, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-9044
Consider Hector the black cat. Ultra-cool, with a red bandana tied around his head, Hector is always there with a bit of helpful wisdom and a friendly arm to throw around the shoulders of a disheartened, lonely buddy.
Now consider Dr. Edward Buchanan, University of South Carolina biology graduate, Honors College alumnus and pediatric surgeon. He, too, is always there — at the bedside, in the office, in surgery — to repair and help heal children with long-term facial deformities. He may not be wearing a red bandana, but he knows his young patients need helpful wisdom and a friendly touch.
Buchanan has been chief of plastic surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston since 2018. He’s committed to children — and to helping them understand what it means to go through surgery.
“His clinic is very innovative,” says Noah Hyduke, one of three BARSC MD students who spent five days shadowing Buchanan in December 2018. The joint initiative between South Carolina's Honors College and its School of Medicine allows a select group of students to receive conditional acceptance to medical school as freshmen, and then enter medical school after their third year of undergraduate coursework.
“I’ve always wanted to work with kids, so looking at pediatrics in a surgical context was amazing,” adds Alexandra Tamura, of Simpsonville, South Carolina.
With all the work Buchanan does at the hospital, writing children’s books wasn’t on Buchanan’s list of things to do, but it’s where his career as a pediatric and craniofacial surgeon has taken him. He’s been fascinated with biology, human physiology and surgery since his earliest science classes at UofSC. Now, he says, helping babies and children is the best part of his job.
“Seeing them grow up and live normal lives is a true gift that fills me with a tremendous sense of meaning and purpose,” he says.
It’s not easy, at any age, to have a cleft lip and palate or any kind of congenital, traumatic or oncologic malformation, especially on the face. What Buchanan’s patients and their families needed was something he couldn’t give them through medicine and surgery. They needed personal resilience and a positive perspective.
But oh, how to tell children that in a way they could understand? When he realized he couldn’t, he invented characters who could. And thus, was born Hector the black cat, Prickly Pear, Happy Hoglet, Pit Bully and Fenny Fox — all stars of Buchanan’s Mental Ninja series of children’s books.
“I felt producing something that could be read and shared with family members in repetition would be a better way to facilitate these conversations,” Buchanan says. “Engaging children with lessons in a narrative fashion with interesting and well-constructed characters would be another way to grab their attention and provide for a better way to introduce these concepts.”
Take The Tale of Fenny Fox. Yellow, with very prominent ears, Fenny doesn’t look like the happier, small-eared red foxes at his school. He runs away from Hector, who tries to befriend him, and cries alone in the cafeteria. Then Hector introduces him to Harry, a rabbit with huge ears. Harry loves his ears “because they help me hear things better than anyone.” Harry’s surprising attitude helps Fenny realize that he, too, can hear really well.
After talking to Ollie the Octopus, who confides how ashamed he was at having eight arms until he realized how helpful they are, Fenny concludes he needs to change his mind about his ears.
“He decided then and there that he would not let these feelings make him sad anymore,” Buchanan writes.
By the end of the book, a very satisfied-looking Fenny is lounging on a beach chair, umbrella drink in hand, ears spread wide. He’s attained what that author intended — control over his emotions, resilience and a positive outlook. In short, he’s become a mental ninja.
At mentalninja.org, Buchanan explains mental ninjas practice benevolence, righteousness, loyalty and fidelity — and because they ignore external negativity, they live their best life. The website opens with a colorful image of Hector — Buchanan’s brother Matthew created all the illustrations — and includes invitations for readers to submit their own stories and photos of becoming mental ninjas. It also includes stories from around the world of people who have overcome physical difficulties through their positive thinking.
Though he was born and grew up in Maryland, Buchanan considers South Carolina home. He misses the food and the landscape, but most of all the people.
“It’s the interaction,” he says. “The people of South Carolina have a particular type of kindness that is hard to explain. It is welcoming and calming. Strangers smile at you on the street and ask you how your day is. I took this for granted living in Columbia and Charleston, but learned how important it was during my later adventures. I have taken it with me always and try to incorporate it in my daily dealings.”
Hmmm. Maybe there’s just a little bit of Hector the black cat in Dr. Edward Buchanan.