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Facebook Can Be a Powerful Tool for Parents

The story of how a mother used the popular social networking site to help diagnose her son’s rare illness is a thought-provoking one.

With Facebook receiving a great deal of criticism among parents for instigating anti-social and suicidal behaviors among teenagers, there is some redemption to the social networking tool that helped a mother find an obscure diagnosis for her son’s condition that was previously overlooked by pediatricians.

While others parents use Facebook to catch up with the minutia of their 300+ friends, Deborah Copaken Kogan posted pictures of her 4-year-old-son, Leo, when her instincts told her his condition was not the strep throat for which the doctors were treating him.

She first published her story on July 13 in Slate and later that same week appeared on the Today show. Like many, she was previously reluctant to join Facebook, but did so to monitor the posts of her older son. 

Kogan wrote, “it was inconceivable to me that complete strangers would ever fret over my child’s welfare, never mind that the act of posting itself has become as integral to my daily existence as talking, writing, thinking, dreaming.”

After her pediatrician’s diagnosis was revised to scarlet fever and the penicillin prescribed wasn’t working, she turned to Facebook with pictures of her son’s swollen face and typed, “swelling worse, especially eyes and chin. Fever still crazy high. Poor baby.”

Within 10 minutes, she received a call from a friend whose son had experienced the exact symptoms and was diagnosed with a rare and sometimes fatal auto-immune disorder called Kawasaki disease.

After looking up Kawasaki disease online and reading through the 36 comments on Facebook--one of which was from a pediatric cardiologist--Kogan rushed to the hospital with her son. Sharing the information with her pediatrician, it was a choice that saved his life as well as his heart and liver from irreparable damage.

Facebook, like any other network, is a tool. When used as Kogan utilized it, the social network becomes a digital village by which a parent can widen his or her pool of consultants, many of whom have expertise in fields like medicine, psychology and education, among others. 

Driven by her own instinct, Kogan demonstrated how the determination of a parent to advocate for his or her own child can make all the difference in achieving a correct diagnosis. Sure, she could have accepted the diagnosis, or all of her friends on Facebook could have just said, “yeah, looks bad.” But they didn’t, because Facebook can promote the compassionate qualities of a community--care, empathy and trust.

Parenting can be a very isolating adventure, especially when your child won’t develop regular sleep patterns, has an illness or faces other challenges. For many parents, Facebook is not just an outlet for rants or minutia--it is also a portal to a vast support system and a greatly needed community. 

It is a redeeming quality not only for Facebook but also of humanity itself to care so deeply as to follow the trials and tribulations of a concerned mother on her wall. While Leo is expected to make a full recovery, Kogan will never forget the resource she has in her Facebook family. 

Her experience is a useful reminder to parents that it does take a village to raise a child, and even if that village is located in cyberspace, each parent can create a supportive community with a few key strokes and a login.

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