Nick Hardman is a single dad and 3D printing hobbyist who loves a good project. In 2020, he made PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic and soon found himself transitioning to a new endeavor.
“I’m Nick, and this is the 3D Toy Shop Teddy Hospital,” he says in a viral TikTok.
“We make toys that don’t exist — like little pacemakers and little tracheostomies so children who are going through the hardest time can have a friend like them.”
Hardman, who is based in Leeds, England, has shipped over 2,300 bears all over the world with features like prosthetic limbs and heart transplants.
He does the 3D printing work, and other volunteer “surgeons” help sew and assemble teddies when the demand is too high for Hardman to do on his own.
Parents who are interested in getting a teddy or doll for their children can request one through a form on his website, and folks can even donate to an ongoing fundraiser to help sponsor these special toys for families who can’t afford them.
Hardman’s collection of specialty teddies includes some with insulin pumps, foot splints, and even a mini dialysis machine that has helped a young girl better understand her dad’s condition and how she can help when he does dialysis at home.
“I didn’t know that people needed toys like this,” Hardman told the BBC, “So I can make toys that don’t exist. I can make a 3D model, I can 3D print it, and they seem to really help people.”
Not only do the toys provide a representative and inclusive option for kids experiencing difficult medical conditions, they also help them better understand what is happening in their bodies.
“It gives her a visual representation of what is happening inside her head and inside her body,” Alison, a mom of a daughter with spina bifida, who got her own special teddy, told the BBC.
“Sometimes the shunts go wrong, so we can explain to her which part has broken. It shows a bear that’s just like her.”
One parent reached out to Hardman and shared the story of her daughter, who has Hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid builds up in the brain.
Folks with this condition have a shunt valve implant in their brains that needs periodical replacing, and after Hardman made one for a 3-year-old customer, he was inundated with messages and wanted to “do it properly.”
Now, the Teddy Shunt Valve is a fully EU toy safety law-compliant design that can be shipped to families and children’s hospitals around the world to be sewn right onto a favorite plushie.
Although he has an Etsy page where folks can order their custom teddies and shunt valve accessories (and coloring books of the unique teddies, designed by his daughter), Hardman isn’t in it as a businessman.
“It’s not really a business because I’m not doing this to make money,” he told the BBC.
“I’m only charging about 20 pounds, and some teddies take, like, three days to make. I’m doing it because it helps the children.”
Header photos courtesy of 3D Toy Shop Teddy Hospital via Facebook