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Toy hamsters spread heart health message in Covington

Posted on Feb. 19, 2015 ( comments)
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Hamsters have a reputation for being active animals. But whoever heard of hamsters being ambassadors of heart health?

The staff and patients at the MultiCare Heart Center at MultiCare Covington Medical Center certainly have. 

These aren't the type of hamsters you're most likely thinking of. Instead of running for hours on a hamster wheels, these stuffed miniatures dress up for every holiday, Seahawks game — and anything else the Heart Center team can think of. 

Such as Super Bowl XLIX. In January, the hamsters polished their mini Lombardi trophy in preparation for the game against the New England Patriots. 

Last June, each hamster wore a graduation cap, held a diploma and graduated from college. 

Then the hamsters fired up a mini grill to celebrate summer.

And recently, the hamsters showed their appreciation for HBO's Game of Thrones by dressing as their favorite characters and sitting atop a miniature Iron Throne.

These busy hamsters are the work of the Heart Center team and began with the purchase of a single plush hamster at the Healthy Reflections Boutique. 

"First someone bought one at the gift shop and placed it in a cell phone holder that looked like a lawn chair,"  says Mike Lippman, MD, the Primary Care Proceduralist at the Heart Center. 

"Pretty soon everyone had a hamster. I had to buy one, too, so I wasn’t left out. Now they’ve taken on a life of their own."

The first scene the team created was a winter campfire. The hamsters were placed in a circle on a counter and someone suggested they could be sitting around a campfire. 

So clinic assistant — and miniature crafter — Mary Allen went home on her lunch break to make a mini campfire, marshmallows and roasting sticks.

Allen doesn't take credit for the creativity, even though she does most of the crafting. Each staff member contributes ideas and accessories. 

Holidays and current events inspire the hamster scenes. While it's undeniably fun, the team says they do it for Heart Center patients. 

"I think the hamsters help make the visit more fun," Allen says. "It's not just a regular doctor's office." 

In addition to hamster-inspired entertainment, the Heart Center at Covington Medical Center offers basic cardiology and diabetes services. 

Patients come to the clinic for a variety of reasons, such as stress testing, echocardiography and management care after bypass surgery. Some patients make weekly visits and inspire the team to keep creating new hamster scenes. 

"Our biggest fans are anticoagulation patients," Dr. Lippman says. "Patients look to see what the hamsters are doing when they get here."

Almost every hamster accessory and scene is homemade, with the exception of a few repurposed items, including Barbie accessories and miniature NFL helmets. Last year, the Heart Center team printed holiday photo cards and calendars featuring the hamsters. 

The hamsters appear to be fun and games at first glance, but for National Heart Month in February, the critters carry an important message. 

Throughout the month, each hamster is exercising. One hamster is skiing down a slope made of a three-ring binder and tissue paper, another is scaling a rock wall made of foam and aluminum foil. 

There’s even a Hamsterflex — inspired by the Bowflex and crafted out of duct tape and cardboard. 

"Exercise is everything," says Dr. Lippman. "It's the most important thing people can do for heart health."

With two storage containers filled with accessories for hamster scenes, one can't help but wonder: Will the team ever run out of ideas?

"Oh, heck no," says Allen. "We might run out of holidays, but we will never run out of ideas."

Hooked on the hamsters? Follow their adventures on Facebook.

The MultiCare Heart Center at MultiCare Covington Medical Center team (from left to right): Dr. Lippman, Mary Allen, Jennifer Tingey, Nicole Rohrer, Gayle Van Alstyne, Lilly Human, Pam Ratcliffe, Emily Schwarz.

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About The Author

Jen Rittenhouse Jen Rittenhouse
Jen Rittenhouse is the social media manager for MultiCare and Mary Bridge Children's Hospital. She writes stories that connect people with hospitals, health care and each other. You can reach her at [email protected].
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