Video: Making a Difference

By Jonathan Alter
updated 4/6/2007 7:54:11 PM ET 2007-04-06T23:54:11

Katie Pagano of Torrington, Conn., is three-and-a-half years old. She had leukemia.

"I think the lowest point was probably the diagnosis," says Katie's father, Matt Pagano.

"Yep. And then watching her change, you know, from all the medication," says her mother, Lori Pagano.

Like so many families dealing with illness, the Paganos found there weren't enough hours in the day to deal with Katie's cancer and keep friends and relatives informed.

"People want to know — every detail," Lori says. "But in the same breath, you want to do what you have to do and get through it and not answer everybody's questions."

So the Paganos set up a free Web site through a non-profit organization called CaringBridge.org.

"You didn't have the phone ringing off the hook," she says. "You knew, they knew. And they knew by word of mouth, 'Go on Katie's Web site.' "

Soon, Katie's CaringBridge site became more than just a bulletin board for updating her condition and treatments. It became a community.

"That's what got me through every single day," Lori says. "To know that all these people were praying for her and cared about her."

Jonathan Alter: That's what got me through the day, three years ago when I had cancer — the prayers, jokes and embarrassing stories about what I did when I was in fourth grade that family and friends posted on my CaringBridge Web site.

"This is what we call compassion technology," says Chris Moquist, who works for CaringBridge.org, which now sponsors 60,000 sites where nearly 9 million people have signed electronic guest books.

"We have health care providers in many hospitals and clinics all over the country who actually do prescribe a family to set up a CaringBridge site," Moquist says.

Even the Doonesbury character B.D. — hospitalized after losing his leg in Iraq — established a site.

Katie Pagano is doing better now, but her family isn't ready to take down the site yet.

"We're looking forward to posting the day when the training wheels come off — and the day when she goes to kindergarten," Matt Pagano says. "And the wedding."

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