Maryville-Washington University Collaboration


Explaining serious medical conditions to adults can be challenging enough. Trying to get children to understand them requires special talent. And special talent is what Maryville University students Ami Wilson and Christine Warner possess.

Wilson and Warner teamed up with The Internet Stroke Center at Washington University’s School of Medicine to produce “When Grandpa Comes Home: A Story About Stroke,” a tale for children that explains what happens after a stroke occurs. The story is told through the eyes of 7-year-old Janie, whose grandfather comes to live with her family after suffering a stroke.

Wilson of St. Peters, a junior majoring in biology and English, wrote the story and Warner of Lake St. Louis, a sophomore majoring in studio art, drew the illustrations. The story can be found at It can be read either through flash animation, which simulates the turning of a book’s pages, or one panel at a time.

“Even though the project remains Ami’s and Christine’s, it has been a collaborative effort that gave them a taste of how teams operate in the work world,” said David Murray, managing editor of The Internet Stroke Center website. “I have to say that the final project has met everyone’s expectations, with many urging us to explore hard-copy publishing, which I’m looking into.”

Both Wilson and Warner became involved in the project through their 2006 fall semester class, “The Fairy Tale In Literature and Film,” taught by Germaine Murray, Ph.D., associate professor of English at Maryville University. David Murray is Germaine Murray’s husband. Germaine Murray knew her husband was looking for interns at the Internet Stroke Center and she encouraged Wilson to apply for an internship because of her writing ability and her unique double major. “I thought the two together (biology and English) would be an excellent mesh,” Wilson said.

Wilson recruited Warner to illustrate the story after seeing work that Warner had completed for a class assignment. Warner said working on the children’s story allowed her to reach new heights creatively. “A lot of my work has been murals of landscapes in people’s homes so I was excited to have a project where I could be looser and freer with my water colors,” she said. Warner noted she gained insight into a child’s eyes from her mother, who is a first-grade teacher.

David Murray said the idea to have interns work on the project came from his boss, Dr. Mark Goldberg, a neurologist with the Washington University School of Medicine who also runs a foundation, the Hope Center. Both Murray and Wilson noted it was difficult to find research on how children view the effects of strokes in adults. Wilson said she turned to two of her Maryville professors for help: Kristen Bruzzini, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, and Judy McGee, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology.

“Dr. Bruzzini served as a mentor with anatomy and the biological background of a stroke while Dr. McGee gave me some perspectives on how a child might react to seeing an adult who had a stroke,” Wilson said. “I wanted to make the story believable but also understandable.”

Bruzzini downplayed her role in the process. “I suggested resources, verified references, and offered literary advice when possible,” Bruzzini said. “This project was largely completed by Ami and Christine. Most of the credit for this wonderful project needs to be thrown their way!” Bruzzini remarked she is working with McGee and Wilson on a study that will examine the response of children to the story on the Stroke Center website.

Wilson said she and David Murray divided the story into 13 scenes. They then gave the scenes to Warner who provided four illustrations for each scene. The three of them then chose the illustration to accompany each scene. The trio did much of their collaboration in person, with Wilson and Warner going to Washington U. on Fridays during the fall semester to work with Murray on the project.

Both Wilson and Murray acknowledge the story editing process was difficult. Murray said the story went through two rounds of editing; the second round necessary to fit the text into the confines of the Flash animation. “The second round was, I think, a bit painful for Ami, since about 70 percent of the text was cut out and/or reworded, even after the initial editing,” Murray remarked. “It was an education to me as an editor, because I found that even though some of the nuance and charm that Ami had put in was sacrificed, the essential elements of the story remained, with a tighter focus.”

Wilson said it was painful to see her words fall under the chopping block but she credits Murray for doing his best to keep her work intact. “He was its champion. He was very gracious in working with us. He was very careful in preserving the story’s meaning,” Wilson commented. She said she used her two cousins whom she baby sits as a “test audience” for the story. “I read the story to them and they were honest with me in telling me if they thought kids would say or wouldn’t say certain things,” Wilson remarked.

While told from a child’s point of view, the story does not sugar coat a stroke’s effects, Murray said “Kids can bear more reality than we think, so we tried not to cover up or deny the realities that Janie faces when her grandpa comes to stay with them,” he said. “While grandpa does improve, it’s not clear that he’s ever going to be like he was before the stroke. It’s really about how Janie and her family adjust to the new reality.” Murray said the doctors and other stroke experts who reviewed the story prior to publication liked the text and illustrations and had helpful suggestions for the final round of edits.

Murray said an audio version of the story, which Wilson will record, is planned Both Wilson and Warner are ecstatic that they can add published author, and published illustrator, to their resumes. “It’s still a little unreal or maybe surreal,” Wilson said.

Maryville University, founded in 1872, is a private, coeducational institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,300 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges in the Midwest, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers by offering programs that integrate liberal arts with professional studies.

Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.

Maryville University students Ami Wilson, left, and Christine Warner, review scenes from the story Wilson wrote and Warner illustrated for a website devoted to stroke patients and their families.