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Greenwich Doctor Trades New York for Teddy Bears

GREENWICH, Conn. — Dr. Toni Salvatore will be seeing some special patients Sept. 18. Some of Greenwich Hospital ’s youngest patients will be bringing their teddy bears for their annual checkups at the 13th Annual Teddy Bear Clinic.

“Th e Teddy Bear Clinic has been a tradition at Greenwich Hospital at least as long as I have been here,” says the native New Yorker. She left a general practice position in Manhattan a decade ago to pursue pediatrics in Greenwich. She initially resisted a move to Greenwich, but fate kept prodding her.

“My intensive care unit director in Manhattan mentioned to me that Greenwich had an opening in pediatrics, and at the time I wasn’t really looking to come here. Then the next day someone else mentioned it to me. Two people in two days told me check into it, so I did,” says Salvatore, calling it serendipitous and destiny.

Salvatore faces two major challenges as a pediatrician. Often her patients haven’t developed the verbal skills to explain what ails them or to understand what she says. She laughs and says the other challenge is working with parents.

The Teddy Bear Clinic helps with both issues. The children bring their stuffed companions and tell the doctors what is wrong. Maybe Teddy has a cold or a broken leg. From there the hospital staff takes the child and toy through mock exam rooms and labs. Occasionally, a particularly damaged doll might find itself with a few stitches.

From her perspective, the clinic helps ease fears about hospitals and doctors, for both the young patients and their parents. Salvatore said even older siblings often take away a greater appreciation for medicine. Because the doctors perform the teddy bear examinations and operations, it also helps the children to connect to their caregivers.

“The goal of any doctor and patient relationship is to first build up trust,” says Salvatore. With the teddy bear clinic, she says that goal is met. And helping her patients smile makes leaving the hustle and bustle of Manhattan all the more worthwhile for her.

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