Women's & Children's Hospital December 23, 2011

LAFAYETTE, La. – "Merry Christmas."

This simple message that adorns the cover of the 2011 Women's & Children's Hospital Christmas card along with a hand-drawn image of Santa Claus, a pointy Christmas tree and several colorful presents is typical of the millions of holiday cards that go out across the country from loved ones, businesses, etc. each holiday season.

What makes the 2011 Women's & Children's Hospital Christmas card so special is the artwork on the cover.

The artist is Maya Morales, 6, of Youngsville, a "straight-A" first grade student at Coteau Elementary in nearby Iberia Parish. Maya, who signed the card with two purple hearts on the back cover, is a childhood cancer patient of Dr. Ammar Morad, founder of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Program at Women's & Children's Hospital.

Dr. Morad founded the program about four years ago. He is treating cancer at the Kids Specialty Center with a 95 percent cure rate.

Asked about the inspiration for her artwork, Maya said, "I just thought of Christmas."

Maya is an avid fan of art, specifically painting, according to her mother, Holly Perez. "Every time we go into the hospital, her favorite thing to do is paint and do artwork in the Child Activity Center," Perez explained.

The card was distributed to more than 600 Acadiana physicians, media, hospital administrators and nonprofit agencies that focus on cancer services.

"It makes me feel special for her," Perez said. "She's not just a person who goes into the hospital for treatment. Everybody at the hospital makes her and me feel comfortable. We see them more than we see our family. They make us feel like family and we are at home."

Maya was diagnosed in July with Rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common form of soft tissue tumor in children, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a malignant tumor of the muscles attached to the bones. It can occur in various places in the body, but the most common are in the head, neck, urogenital tract, arms and legs.

Maya currently is undergoing a 42-week treatment plan. She already has endured 28 radiation treatments and is in the middle of chemotherapy. She lost her hair twice. Still, Maya is a positive, happy child who is excited about Christmas.

"There's no stopping Maya," Perez said. "She's always got a smile on her face."