Ilana Konstantinovsky was only 17 years old when her mother, Sophia, died from cancer.Only weeks before her death, Ilana gave her mother a teddy bear, unaware of what this small gift would lead to.In her final moments, Sophia told Ilana to hug the bear and comfort it after her death. “It’s too late for me, but this teddy bear is actually for you – hug him for me too,” she told her daughter, whose experience left her feeling a need to assist other cancer sufferers.
After her mother’s death, Ilana learned from her father – neurologist Dr. Michael Konstantinovsky – of the many scientific studies that pointed to a correlation between a prolonged embrace and an increase in endorphins and dopamine released by the body. These provide a positive influence on healing and recovery from physical, mental and emotional trauma.With a strong desire to help many patients, Ilana established the Ramat Gan-based charity Healing Teddies, offering an endless hug to sick, disabled, trauma victims and other special populations both across Israel and around the world.To date, Healing Teddies has handed out more than 38,000 teddy bears to those in need, partnering with major companies like Teva, Coca Cola and Plasson to boost their impact.“I created this project from a very personal place. I wanted to help cancer patients feel that they are not alone, so no one feels as we felt during our struggle,” Ilana told The Jerusalem Post.“I soon discovered that, beyond giving them this feeling, our activity also gives them hope and strength to overcome their pain and struggle.”Each teddy bear handed out by the charity’s team of volunteers comes with a small booklet and instructions for use, which usually recommends three 10-minute hugs each day.“When the teddy bears are given to patients in our unique, special [way] by wonderful volunteers, with the special hugging instructions, they become a therapeutic tool that helps patients of all ages,” she said.The charity is now a candidate for a special Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry excellence award for its work on a breakthrough program for treating people with low-functioning autism.“You have to understand that the teddy bear is a source of support during the whole recovery period,” said 42-year-old cancer patient Irit Tiger.“Even when you are alone at home at night the teddy bear accompanies you during all your fears and thoughts, worries and hopes.”As a measure of its success, the charity now faces increasing demand from hospitals and support centers throughout Israel and abroad. As a result, Healing Teddies has turned to the public for support.
After her mother’s death, Ilana learned from her father – neurologist Dr. Michael Konstantinovsky – of the many scientific studies that pointed to a correlation between a prolonged embrace and an increase in endorphins and dopamine released by the body. These provide a positive influence on healing and recovery from physical, mental and emotional trauma.
Its "Stop and Hug" crowdfunding campaign (http://bit.ly/teddyhug) aims to both generate positivity during today’s divisive political atmosphere and to contribute to the charity’s dream of bringing the treatment method to more patients and perhaps, one day, to every home in Israel. The campaign has already raised more than NIS 20,000 of its NIS 120,000 target.“We often think of teddy bears as a sweet fluffy thing that children like to play with, but we have turned teddy bears into a reinforcement tool that helps patients reinforce their mental and physical well-being,” Ilana said.