At this “hospital” on Front Street near the Secaucus town center, a "Doctor Is In" sign hangs in the window. Walking in the front door, visitors find themselves in the “triage” or intake area. A few steps later is where all the serious “care” takes place, in the “surgery” center.
But this facility doesn’t cater to humans; it specializes in the treatment of other loved ones – those of the cotton, fabric, and plastic kind. Stuffed animals, dolls, and figures.
The Secaucus Doll and Teddy Bear Hospital was founded by Luis and Ana Casas of Bogota, Colombia, seven years ago, and is still going strong, even through the Great Recession. Even in hard economic times, a price can never be put on love.
Luis had worked at a doll factory during the summers in his native country. With his brother, he founded a doll hospital in Bogota, worked at one in Manhattan after emigrating here, and then opened this, his own clinic. Ana, his wife, is the “head nurse,” and other family members are on staff, including her sister Alba Sanchez (sewing), and daughter Jeannette Gonzalez (porcelain and other types of figures).
The hospital employees have great expertise, pay fine attention to detail, and are extremely dedicated. Ask Leo Rogers of Morristown, a collector of medieval knight figures for more than 30 years. He has found himself at the hospital not once, but twice.
“No patients ever die here. They always go home healed and looking fit.” – Ana Casas
He was happy to find the Secaucus facility for their care.
“Both knights required extended stays,” Rogers said.
During his first visit, he recalls Ana telling him his “patient” would be safe with them.
"No patients ever die here,” she told him. “They always go home healed and looking fit."
Words of thanks and praise
One reconstituted figure was a 16-inch Motschmann Baby doll, a “Taufling Baby” from 1850. A woman from Pennsauken in South Jersey was happy they could fix it.
In fact, the Casas’ bulletin boards are full of thank you letters and notes from those overjoyed with their work.
“Thank you so much for the great job repairing my husband’s teddy bear,” reads one. “It now sits on his dresser where the dogs can’t eat him.”
“We received Baby back last week and she looked better than we ever imagined,” said another. “Her cheeks were pink and she was healthy all over.”
From close & far away
Much of the time, the Casas never see the faces of their clients. A good portion of their business is of the mail order variety, basically because it has to be. The hospital has treated “patients” from more than a dozen U.S. states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
And foreigners are not foreign to the family skills. Staff members have also treated dolls and stuffed animals from Canada, China, England, and Spain.
Making a difference
Besides earning a decent living, why do they do they work they do? Because it makes a difference in people’s lives.
“It’s because the work is sentimental,” Casas said. “It makes us sometimes cry, all of us, because behind the teddy bear or doll there is a very sad story – and sometimes it’s also very happy.”
The head nurse related the instance of a teddy bear that came in minus its head, lost to an overzealous dog.
“But the owner is a child,” Casas said. “She has it 12 years already; she got it as a little girl. This teddy bear went through with her a very, very complicated treatment for cancer and the cancer went away.
“She was sick and now the parents want to repair it,” she continued. “It’s going to be a Christmas gift for her. She’s going to be very happy, because she loves this teddy bear.”
The hospital is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. For more information about the Secaucus Doll and Teddy Bear Hospital, call (201) 223-2332.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.