If laughter is the best medicine, Frye Regional Medical Center's Charlie's Chaplains could start its own pharmacy.
Charlie's Chaplains is a volunteer ministry to spread laughter and joy among hospital patients and their families. The volunteers dress as clowns, performing tricks and jokes and hoping to make patients forget, if only for a moment, their pain and illnesses.
"In the midst of whatever they're going through, there can be a light moment in spite of the procedures and the discomfort ahead," said Robert Ford, FRMC director of pastoral care. "(Patients) can have some humor and levity. Anything positive you can inject in your life makes a difference."
Ford helped found Charlie's Chaplains in 1991 with Danny Leonard and Dana McKim, who wanted to create a ministry of laughter for hospital patients.
"The hospital is a very stressful place," Ford said. "People who walk away from the hospital are very tired. It takes more out of people than they realize."
Ford wanted to create his clown persona, but he didn't want the traditional red-nose, white-face clown look.
"I wanted a character that had minimal makeup," Ford said, adding that his wife suggested the simplistic look of comedian Charlie Chaplain. "That's where it came from, and it just stuck."
From Ford's Charlie Chaplain character was born Charlie's Chaplains, and in the more than 20 years since the program's creation, it grew into a network of volunteers committed to the healing power of laughter.
Scientific studies prove the power of laughter has some lasting effects on people's health and well being. Recent research from Vanderbilt University and the University of Baltimore concluded that laughter can have positive effects on an individual's health. Laughing raises the level of infection - fighting antibodies and returns blood vessels to normal blood flow. Laughter can also reduce stress and anxiety.
The Charlie's Chaplains, therefore, are just what the doctors ordered. Charlie's Chaplains tour the hospital in pairs, performing a 2-3 minute presentation with jokes, card tricks or other comedic elements.