Caroline Benzel and her 2-year-old therapy dog Loki are supporting frontline workers during the pandemic by delivering “Hero Healing Kits” to healthcare professionals at hospitals in Maryland, USA.
To date, Ms Benzel has distributed over 7,000 Hero Healing Kits and over $100,000 has been raised across the USA by people who have been inspired to launch similar projects.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, rottweiler Loki and Ms Benzel, a medical student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, have been unable to run regular therapy sessions due to Covid restrictions. Keen to continue helping patients and hospital staff, the pair began to run therapy sessions online.
“The staff and patients have truly enjoyed seeing something different since, at least at our hospital, all visitations have been halted. A simple conversation can completely change the outlook of a patient,” Ms Benzel wrote on “Dogtor Loki’s” Instagram page, which has amassed over 16,000 followers.
During the therapy sessions, Ms Benzel noticed that the masks that hospital staff were wearing were causing skin rashes and bruising, so she decided to take action.
“I was seeing the masks doing damage to the nursing staff, the doctors, the social workers, because everyone, custodians to doctors, are all required to wear them,” Ms Benzel said.
Devising ways to help her colleagues wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) for extended periods of time, Ms Benzel came up with the idea of putting together care packages that contained products such as hypoallergenic lotion, Vaseline, body powder, gum, chapstick, tea, and coffee.
“We tried to include items that we thought were not only helpful and functional but could easily be kept on a person when they’re working,” Ms Benzel said.
Each kit also comes with a photo of Loki and a thank you note as a token of appreciation for the hard work and dedication of frontline workers. “Loki is the face of the whole operation,” Ms Benzel said.
The pup has accompanied Ms Benzel on delivery rounds where the Hero Healing Kits have been distributed to local hospitals, police departments, and fire stations.
After spreading the word about the project on her neighbourhood LISTSERV, Ms Benzel was able to raise the funds to keep the project going. “It spread like wildfire, and we were able to raise money for the first 500-1,000 kits,” she said.
The Hero Healing Kits have gained national media attention and inspired others to launch similar initiatives in eight different states including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
“This was the dream, and it’s coming to fruition—not only to help first responders, but to inspire others to do the same in their counties and states for their respective hospitals,” Ms Benzel said in an online post.
The kits were a way for Ms Benzel to give back to the medical community after they rallied around her when Loki had to undergo surgery for a broken paw.
“I didn’t know how I was going to come up with that kind of money as a medical student,” Ms Benzel said. “The hospital staff at University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) suggested I do a GoFundMe, and the whole surgery and physical therapy ended up being covered by donations within two weeks.”
“They did that for me when I was down and I know the people there are going through a hard time now themselves. I wanted to do what I could to return the favor and show them how much I care about them and the UMMC system,” she said.
Ms Benzel and Loki’s Hero Healing Kits have become a beacon of compassion and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of paying it forward.
For her contributions, Loki has received several awards and accolades including being named as Good Morning America’s Pet of the Week.
Click here to get involved in the project and build your own Hero Healing Kit for frontline workers near you.