Honoring the heroes of COVID-19

CSE alumnus writes book to inspire children and raise money for charity

July 9, 2020

As COVID-19 has spread and death tolls have risen, brave men and women have emerged to fight the disease despite personal risk. College of Science and Engineering alumnus Anant Naik saw the need to honor them. So, he wrote and illustrated a book—one that could also educate children and raise money for a good cause. 

“I was kind of just scribbling rhymes together,” Naik said. “Initially, I knew it was just to put on my Instagram for whoever to find, but after I drew the first picture, I realized it could be something bigger.”

Naik, who earned his biomedical engineering degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2019, wrote and self-published Heroes of a Pandemic: Those Who Stood Up Against COVID-19 in three weeks.

“This crisis is going to be at the front of our minds for a long time, so there's no timeline for how long we are going to talk and think about the sacrifice of people,” said Naik, now a medical student at the University of Illinois. “It was because of the fundraising aspect of the book that I was trying to finish the book as fast as possible.”

All proceeds from the book—the first he’s ever written, hand-drawn, and published himself—go to Doctors Without Borders. 

Inspiration to write

Writing was always an interest of his. Naik served as opinions and editorials editor at the University newspaper, the Minnesota Daily. 

“Writing has never phased me,” Naik said. “I've always embraced the challenge to write.”

In addition to his writing, drawing, and medical background, Naik said “another point of inspiration” for his book was his work with Engineers Without Borders.

Engineers Without Borders is a student group that implements engineering projects to improve communities around the world. Naik served as president of the UMN chapter in his junior year as an undergraduate student.

During that time, he learned of poor health care systems in other countries. This knowledge inspired his decision to donate the book’s earnings to the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders in English.

“There's no other way I can think of to honor the people on the frontline than to give them the financial support that they need,” Naik said.

“Doctors Without Borders consistently provides logistics and medical care to countries around the world to ensure people have access to medical care," he explained.

Crafting a message

As a medical student in Illinois, Naik is “constantly surrounded” by professors, teachers, faculty, and nurses who are working diligently against the medical crisis brought on by the novel coronavirus.

After hearing their never-ending tales of the healthcare emergency, Naik knew he needed to help. But since he was not able to volunteer in the hospital due to his clinic’s regulations, he wanted to contribute in some other way. 

“I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of how we can communicate problems of health care and public health to kids in a way that is accessible to them,” he said.

“I wanted to reframe the crisis in more of a positive light so as kids reflect or look at this crisis,” Naik explained, “they can appreciate the sacrifice made by so many millions of people around the world.”

But the book isn’t just about thanking doctors. Naik made sure to include more than just medical heroes. 

“Immediately, when we think of the people on the frontlines, we think of doctors and nurses, but there are so many other people involved,” Naik said. “Truck drivers, police officers, grocery store employees who are working—and I wanted to write a short story to describe their contribution.”

In terms of his book’s future impact, Naik is hopeful.

“The goal is that kids can look at this book and be inspired by this story of COVID-19 and see who emerged as a hero and personally admire them,” he said, “But maybe [the kids will also] decide to one day become those types of heroes in the future.”

Heroes of a Pandemic: Those Who Stood Up Against COVID-19 is available on Amazon.

Story by Kathryn Richner

If you'd like to support the College of Science and Engineering community during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the CSE Response Fund