Teddy Bear Clinic at Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown, takes the fear out of doctor visits

NORRISTOWN – Thirty-year-old Sylvester has never been to the doctor for a check-up.

Does he have a super-immune system?

Are his bones made out of steel?

Or is he one of the millions of Americans without health insurance?

The answer is none of the above so no need to get your blood pressure up over a possible debate on politics.

Sylvester is my 14-inch stuffed penguin.

On Saturday afternoon, Sylvester, along with other stuffed animals and their best human friends attended the Teddy Bear Clinic at Elmwood Park Zoo.

The Teddy Bear Clinic helps children feel more comfortable about visiting the doctors as local nurses and vet-tech examined their stuffed animals.

Of course he has a heart! He's my oldest friend.

Of course he has a heart! He’s my oldest friend.

“It can be a scary time going to the doctor or dentist. Why not bring one of their favorite things so they know it’s a safe experience,” said Julia Santoro, Special Events Manager.

Maria Carty, Medical Assistant with the Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia tended to Sylvester.

First, she checked his heartbeat.

“Sounds good!”

Then she listened to his lungs.

“He has a really strong set of lungs.”

His stomach revealed rumblings, which is no surprise since penguins eat up to thirteen pounds of food a day. You should see my grocery bill!

“He sounds like he’s hungry,” Carty said.

She slid a blood pressure cuff over his flipper and took his temperature. She gave him a quick shot which he handled much better than I ever did and gave him a Finding Nemo Band-Aid.

Sylvester and I were sent on our with a “Teddy Bear Health Certificate” and instructions to hug him twice daily and bed rest.

Carty and others on her team saw an assortment of (stuffed) bears, some lizards, a monkey, a fox, giraffe, a mermaid and, of course, one penguin.

“We show their bears are being treated nicely and they are not scared so when they go to the doctors they aren’t scared. Especially when you get a shot. It’s quick, fast and nothing to be afraid of. Their parents were very brave also. They were there to support them,” commented Carty.

Live animals also got in on the day of wellness as donkeys Pickles and Jenny received their check-ups at the Zoo Bowl Theater.

Veterinarian Michele Goodman said donkeys are similar to the other animals in the zoo in that they need annual exams. Both are considered senior in age (Pickles is 19 and Jenny is 17) and are monitored for arthritis and other conditions.

Red Pandas require the most medical attention.

“Their evolutionary adaptations are very unusual for an animal so they require a lot of intensive care management as part of their normal routine,” said Goodman.