Lending Some Heart to the Field of Medicine

By Hannah Wente | Photography by Bri Tolksdorf

In 2011, as a third-year medical student, Ronak Mehta published a children’s book featuring cute characters shaped like human organs called NerdBugs. She sold a few copies — mostly to family and friends — and went back to her coursework, residency and fellowship in family medicine. But in the back of her mind, she always knew she wanted to do more with her book characters.

Fast-forward to 2018, when Dr. Mehta’s husband, Dr. Jerden Ruff, encouraged her to invest time and effort into NerdBugs. She took the concept a step further and brought her characters to life in the form of stuffed plushies.

Her goal with NerdBugs is to help young patients feel seen — regardless of their diagnosis — and to provide an educational tool that can help providers and family members explain what is going on within their bodies.

“I want to help remove the fear, reduce stigma and lead with empathy and compassion,” she says. “We spark curiosity in kids about their own or another’s diagnosis — coming from a place of learning, instead of judgment or fear.”

The most popular plushies are the heart, uterus, neuron (brain cell), kidney and liver. Surprisingly, only half of the plushies are purchased for kids — the other half are purchased for adults experiencing a medical condition or for well wishes before an upcoming surgery. Lactation consultants use breast plushies as a teaching aid to explain nursing to new moms.

NerdBugs partnered with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) last year on a community impact initiative, providing thousands of plushies to children’s hospitals across Tennessee, Denver and Colorado. Dr. Mehta, who stepped away from practicing medicine in 2022 to focus full-time on NerdBugs, hopes to continue partnerships with organizations like the American Lung Association and American College of Cardiology to expand patient education using her plushie characters.

Her children’s book will be re-released this summer — with the addition of some new characters. She hopes it resonates with youth in a fun and light-hearted way. Eventually, she’d like to use her characters to build out her book series or even launch a television show.

Today, the plushies can be found all over the world — in bedrooms, hospital rooms and clinic exam rooms — helping patients come to terms with their diagnosis and giving them a new friend to hug along the way.

Written By
More from Hannah Wente
Outdoor Serenity: Eastern Influence
This couple worked with a local landscape architect who designed the couple’s...
Read More
0 replies on “Lending Some Heart to the Field of Medicine”