How's Work?: Teddy Bear Doc
Jill DeBroff, owner and founder of Teddy Bear Hospital of Pittsburgh, saves the lives of children’s best friends.
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Name: Jill DeBroff, owner and founder of Teddy Bear Hospital of Pittsburgh
Job: Teddy Bear Surgeon
Location: 4304 Butler St., Lawrenceville; teddybearhospital.com
How long does the average operation take?
Well, there is no average job. They’re all made from different stuff, so they all deteriorate at different rates. This teddy bear is 16 years old, but he’s been loved like a 40-year-old bear. Some take two hours. This guy looks like [he took] around four hours. It used to be the job of mom to do this.
How did you find yourself in this line of work?
Years ago, my mother was taking me to linen shows and quilt shows, auctions, flea markets. She wanted to make me aware that you don’t necessarily have to buy new to appreciate things. I have always been a recycling kind of girl.
Which was the most challenging case you have seen?
Burn victims are the most difficult. When I look at them, I feel their burn. This guy came in [in fall 2013]; the eyes were all melted in the front. I didn’t even know where to start. It was just horrific — but eight hours later, he looked new, soft, furry. I put a new coat of fur on him and a new ribbon.
How much of the back story do you know about that particular bear?
It [came from] a real-estate agent whose client had a house fire. They lost everything. This one bear is all that was salvaged, and [the client] just broke down when she saw it. The real-estate agent decided to [pay] for the restoration.
What is the largest piece you have fixed?
A life-size [stuffed] zebra — the mascot of WVIZ, the PBS station in Cleveland.
What is the most common teddy bear injury?
Time. Someone who just got married and is about to have their first child — they want to give their teddy bear from when they were a kid to their newborn, and they want to have it restored so their little baby will have their teddy bear. These bears have spent 15, 20 years in a box in the garage, so they have deteriorated.
How important to you is the whole medical motif?
You sign your emails “Dr. Jill DeBroff.” The person who did this before me was mom or grandmom, and they are trusted. Doctors are also trusted. I am restoring the things you spent your childhood with; for me that’s important enough to put that term on emails or letters.