WOP Exclusive: Guinea Pigs Help Girl Cope with Chronic Health Condition

Posted by Stacey Venzel
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Photo via Kathy and Ellen Tellstrom
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A 13-year-old Wisconsin girl battling a life-threatening disease has found peace and joy in her life via two guinea pigs.

Ellen Tellstrom has spent her life in and out of hospitals due to a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a genetic disorder affecting connective tissue including blood vessels, joints, and skin. Hyperelasticity and hyperflexibility associated with EDS result in easy bruising and early onset arthritis. The debilitating disease can be life-threatening and cause other disorders, including Dysautonomia and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS).

Ellen's battle with EDS has understandably caused her undue anxiety, but despite her daily struggles, Ellen smiles a lot more these days thanks to two adopted guinea pigs named Bunny and Dumpling.

Ellen and her mom Kathy recently penned an anecdote on how the guinea pigs have changed Ellen's life, submitting the story to Petco Foundation as part of their Holiday Wishes campaign. The inspiring story is a reminder of how animals help people battle illnesses.

petco foundation

Through the Holiday Wishes campaign, Petco Foundation provided grants to 52 animal welfare groups based on adoption story submissions from around the country. Ellen's story won a $5,000 grant for Safe Haven Humane Society in Green Bay. Pet parent winners also received a Petco gift card totaling up to $1,000.

You can read Ellen's touching story here. She is also still eligible for the $25,000 People's Choice Award, determined by votes tallied on Dec. 20. If you are interested in voting, you can vote here.

Ellen and Kathy answered some questions in an exclusive Wide Open Pets interview, offering insight into the life of someone, especially so young, living with EDS, and how even the smallest of animals can impact a person's life.

guinea pigsKathy told WOP:

[Ellen's] animals have become her 'grounding' in her world. They don't ask anything of her but love. They don't request explanations or expect anything from her. She has filled her heart with their love, and in return, has given them all the adoration and love she has in her heart. These boys are more than pets. They are truly her emotional support.

Ellen and Kathy were at the Ronald McDonald House in Milwaukee at the time of this interview awaiting the following week when Ellen would see eight different specialists.

WOP: What is your favorite memory with Bunny and Dumpling?


Sometimes very early in the morning, the boys will start squeaking for attention. Ellen has a difficult time going to sleep and staying asleep because of her pain. She says she always has a giggle when they start making noise. It is kind of like they know she needs them and they are making their presence known! Even at 1 A.M. in the morning! They comfort her.

guinea pig elf and girl

WOP: Do you remember a specific moment in which Bunny and Dumpling helped you cope with EDS?


I have a lot of days when I do not feel good. I have a lot of pain. It stops me from being able to go to school. That makes me sad. When I hold my guinea pigs I think of my friends who got them for me. They felt bad for me when I am missing so much school. They didn't want me to be alone all the time. They wanted to help me by giving me the guinea pigs. They know I love animals! We have had pigs before. When I spend time with them I think of my friends. It makes me happy.

WOP: Do you think guinea pigs make good pets? Why?


Every guinea pig has its own personality. When I hold them they make me feel happier. I can comb them and groom them, cut their nails, and help take care of them. We have carrot parties with our two guinea pigs and two dogs. We bring them out into the living room and everyone gets to eat carrots!

We also have a little swimming pool that we put the boys in so they can play. Our Basset Hound thinks they are her babies. I love being able to play with them. Sometimes I make them toys to play with. They keep me busy. On the days when I don't feel good, I can hold them and they make me feel better.

Ellen adores her piglets. Look at that smile! She is feeling super dizzy today but she is going to try hard to get to school for her afternoon classes.

Posted by Empowering Ellen on Tuesday, December 6, 2016


WOP: If you could teach the world anything about what it means to have a therapy animal, what would that be?


When a person is struggling with pain and anxiety, animals, in many forms, can help calm down the individual. In Ellen's case, I have watched her change before my eyes. She can be fighting pain and fatigue, with tears and anxiety...you put her pigs into her arms and you can watch the anxiety melt out of her.

Being able to hold them, connect with them, pour her anxiety into them, helps calm herself down. When she is able to calm down, her pain lessens, the tears disappear. When she has less pain and tears, it lessons the fatigue to some degree, and ultimately she is able to socialize more. Getting her to school and with her friends is one of our biggest goals. They are certainly 100 percent her emotional support animals.

guinea pigs

Ellen has a Facebook page, Empowering Ellen, in which she and her mom share her daily challenges living with EDS. Kathy said Ellen's page has become "incredibly important" and they "love watching her page grow," as the support of friends and strangers helps both of them cope.

As Ellen's Facebook page so boldly and inspirationally states: "I am not EDS. I am Ellen."

Would you like to send some hope and joy to Ellen? Share some well wishes for Ellen in the comments below!

All photos via Kathy and Ellen Tellstrom. Special thanks to Petco Foundation for helping facilitate this inspiring interview.

WATCH NOW: Guinea Pigs 'Popcorn' When They're Happy

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WOP Exclusive: Guinea Pigs Help Girl Cope with Chronic Health Condition