SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - You probably never thought of a kidney as something that could be cuddly.
But this doctor is working hard to change that, and she's using cuteness and puns to do it.
Dr. Ronak Mehta, a 33-year-old Marshfield native and physician with the Veterans Adminstration, is the creator of Nerdbugs, a line of plush stuffed cartoon-like characters representing various organs of the human body, including the heart, gall bladder, neuron, uterus and breasts.
She joyfully uses cringe-worthy puns to market the products. Some examples: "Urine for a treat!" for the kidney. "I aorta to tell you how much I love you!" for the heart. "Who you gonna gall? Stone busters!" for the gallbladder.
"My family and friends say puns are the lowest form of humor," Mehta said. "But it's what I find humorous. I think it's just fun and quirky. And I think it's semi-appropriate for all ages."
Yes, these stuffed organs with smiling faces and bright eyes are a bit odd. And "kind of dorky," Mehta admits. "But they are also kind of adorable."
The idea for Nerdbugs first struck Mehta, a 2003 graduate of Marshfield High School, when she was in med school. She was working as a resident in Chicago at the time, and working in a variety of hospital departments, including pediatrics. She thought a little children's book, written in a silly Dr. Seuss-like style, would help young patients better understand what was happening to them. She hired an artist to help design the organ characters who helped explain how they and the body worked.
The book did not become the next "Cat in the Hat." But even so, Mehta believed that bringing the characters off the page and into life, so to speak, could have value. "I thought it would be neat to have a physical component to it," she said, "with or without the book."
She had contracted with an illustrator to create the characters in the book. Mehta essentially took those drawings, created specifications about what she wanted, and worked with a manufacturer overseas to make them as plush animals. (Learn more about the process at the podcast Side Hustle School, episode 634.)
Mehta's career moved on, and she no longer treats children. She is a physician in the integrative medicine department for the VA in Salt Lake City. She uses a holistic approach in helping veterans get and stay healthy, encouraging her patients to incorporate into their lives activities such as mindfulness, yoga and healthy eating habits to augment medications and other modern medical strategies.
Plenty of people of all ages are attracted to her quirky characters, Mehta said. She spent about $10,000 getting the Nerdbugs startup running about six months ago, and sales have already surpassed that investment.
People buy Nerdbugs for a variety of reasons, Mehta said. Some buy them for their children to help them learn about the body, just as Mehta intended.
But others purchase the characters to cheer up people who are in hospitals, injecting some whimsical humor into the lives of those who have undergone transplants or other surgeries or are dealing with disease. The breasts, which come in different shades (brown/tan and ivory/pink), are aimed at an audience of women, Mehta said.
"They might not be quite kid-appropriate," she said. "But they are made for women such as breast cancer survivors or breast-feeding moms."
Mehta hopes to establish a partnership with Marshfield Medical Center and Marshfield Clinic. She envisions the Nerdbugs being offered at the hospital gift shops. And she hopes to create a purchasing system that allows people to buy and donate Nerdbugs to children in hospitals.
As Nerdbugs grows into the future, fans can expect more body parts to be portrayed. "I've got like 15 to 20 designs," Mehta said. "But I wanted to start slowly, and find out if anyone besides my parents would buy them."
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