Lawrenceville's teddy-bear hospital restores family treasures
After examining and diagnosing her patient -- he's dirty, missing a foot and has a detached head -- "Dr. Jill" wraps her furry patient in a white blanket, lays him down on her operating table, and begins the loving restoration process.
Call it plastic surgery for teddy bears, who arrive from all over the country, and even foreign countries, to the Teddy Bear Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville. Jill deBroff is a teddy-bear treasure hunter who travels internationally to search antiques dealers and garage sales for hard-to-find bear parts that often are decades old.
Her patients often come from attics and basements. Their owners hope to reclaim a beloved part of their history.
"Everyone has their own story," says deBroff, a fortysomething Point Breeze resident who has run the Teddy Bear Hospital for three years. "I'm restoring the love. That's all there is to it."
DeBroff, a former paralegal who enjoys photography as a hobby, makes little photo albums of each patient, showing detailed before and after pictures.
Normal wear-and-tear issues -- common for deBroff's patients, which are an average of 40 years old -- are the reason many patients visit her hospital. But dogs can be the worst offenders for teddy-bear injuries, especially to the toys' faces, she says.
DeBroff enjoys hearing the stories attached to each bear, which often belonged to a family member who has died. In one instance, family members were cleaning out the attic of their grandfather, a military veteran who had died. They opened an old trunk and found a well-loved but ratty teddy bear that had been sitting there for some 80 years. The scruffy bear's head was detached from its body, an ear was ripped off, and its eyes were missing. After deBroff finished restoring the bear, she placed him in a new red, white and blue box, in grandpa's memory.
Debroff's business is quaint and rare. Robert Taylor -- president of Huggable Teddy Bears, which makes personalized teddy bears and sells other brands -- says that about a decade ago, the United States had about 30 to 40 teddy-bear hospitals. Today, only about a half-dozen remain in the country, he says. Some teddy-bear brands and manufacturers offer their own hospitals -- like at Hanna Bruce Bears and Teddy Hospital in Lititz, Lancaster County, and Vermont Teddy Bear in Shelburne, Vt.
The existence of teddy-bear hospitals speaks of the need for them, Taylor says. Teddy bears are unlike other playthings, he says. They are lovable and hold a strong sentimental value. You can't really cuddle with a toy car or action figure.
"It's almost like having a baby blanket," Taylor says. "It's kind of like keeping your memories alive.
DeBroff -- who spends an average of 2 to 6 hours on each bear at $30 an hour -- agrees.
"When was the last time you had a tea party with a LEGO set?" she says.
Some of the current and former patients on display at deBroff's hospital, which also sells bears, include a big bear named Brian deBear that she found in France, but deBroff has yet to find just the right nose for it. There's Monty deBear, a mustard-color bear from the 1920s that deBroff found in Haiti. She gave Monty new eyes. DeBroff calls the restored bears that are available for purchase her Hospital Collection, and names them all something-deBear, as a play on her name.
"I know these guys come alive at night," deBroff says, smiling.
Lisa Bozarth, 42, of Stanton Heights, was excited when she and her little sister -- Lara Holdren -- found Holdren's childhood teddy bear, Cuddles. The young Holdren took the cream-color bear everywhere. The sisters found Cuddles when they explored their mother's attic. A flattened Cuddles lay inside a box, with matted, yellowed, dusty fur. Bozarth visited the Teddy Bear Hospital with Cuddles for an examination and "surgery."
Bozarth gave the restored Cuddles to Holdren for her recent birthday, and both sisters were thrilled.
"I think it was special to me, because it was special to my sister, because she was so attached to the bear growing up," Bozarth says. "When she found him, she was just so happy and so excited that she found it.
"Our parents got divorced when we were young," Bozarth says. Cuddles was "something we could hold onto that would provide comfort."
About the hospital
The Teddy Bear Hospital of Pittsburgh, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at 4304 Butler St., Lawrenceville. Details: 412-687-2868 or here.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh police break up customer fights over Air Jordan 11 shoes
- Police crash victim’s death ruled accidental
- Cal U students aid Fayette survey
- Undersized Beachum quietly excels at 1 of game’s pivotal positions
- North Huntingdon residents warned about vehicle break-ins
- Penguins missing Martin, Ehrhoff, Adams; prized prospect Pouliot called up
- Butler County COG, Humane Society aim to control cat population
- Cal U official receives New Pittsburgh Courier honor
- Mars Area students put science theory into practice
- Man’s holiday spirit lights up Belle Vernon
- Seneca Valley team places 1st at Carnegie Science Center competition