From Morley to Great Ormond Street Hospital: The Leeds dad making teddies with health problems to help sick kids feel better about their conditions

A father from Morley has turned his 3D printing hobby into creating accessible toys and teddies for vulnerable and disabled children and children’s hospitals across the country.

Friday, 30th April 2021, 1:56 pm
Nick Hardman with his teddy bear creations (photos: James Hardisty).

Nick Hardman, 37, works in industrial automation and enjoys printing various objects in three dimensions on the side.

A year ago he made 12,500 PPE items for hospitals and once supply was no longer so short, he began making toys for children using the three 3D printers in his garage in south Leeds

The father-of-two created the 3dtoyshop Facebook page and a parent of a child with hydrocephalus got in touch and asked him to make an accessible toy for them.

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One of Nick's teddies.

Caused by an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain and typically causing increased pressure inside the skull, hydrocephalus is often regulated through a shunt valve.

Nick designed and 3D printed a shunt valve to fit to a teddy bear and shared his creation with the family and online before 68,000 people went to his Facebook page to praise him.

He told the YEP: "I thought to myself, 'what have I just stumbled upon?' and before I knew it in October time I had around 100 requests for teddies with shunt valves.

"I needed to know these were safe to give to vulnerable children so I fundraised and found a lab which tests toys and plastics.

Nick Hardman at his computer.

"I refined the design until it was compliant with toy standards and shipped them out to the 100 families.

"Then, on Christmas Eve I sent a further 50 kids with hydrocephalus a toy."

Nick then listed his teddy shunt valves on Etsy and began shipping them right across the world - from Morley all the way to Australia and America.

He continued to take requests to create teddies with different conditions, including having made a teddy bear with a tracheostomy valve.

When a children's play therapist contacted Nick and told him that someone 'needed' to invent a Berlin Heart toy, he did his research and - 'just wow' - realised why a child would need the toy so much.

When a child's heart fails, they are hooked up to an external mechanical heart, the Berlin Heart, on an air driven pump and they stay connected to this until another child's heart is donated after they have died.

Nick said: "When I heard how a Berlin Heart was used, just wow, I needed to make this.

"My friend designed me a 3D model of a Berlin Heart and although I couldn't get back in touch with the play therapist, I continued creating the toy as it was far too important to put down.

"I purchased a giant teddy from Amazon, named him Eddie the Teddy, worked out how to do the heart surgery and did the world's first Berlin Heart surgery on a 1.2 metre tall teddy bear.

"I then wrote to Great Ormond Street Hospital and asked them if they wanted to take care of Eddie and give him to a child who needs him.

"They said they definitely wanted him, but that he would only be able to be used by one child as he wouldn't be able to be sterilized properly."

Now, Eddie is waiting to be shipped to Great Ormond Street - and Nick plans to continue to make Berlin Hearts to give to the hospital so they can attach these to their serializable dolls.

And after having joined a virtual call with 70 play specialists from hospitals across the country, he is also now preparing to create 3D models for other requested conditions to attach to toys.

Nick added: "I've got a bit of a dream in my head now for all this.

"I can make seven Berlin Hearts in one day, and I want to send them to all the children's hospitals in the country.

"I've had donations made which will cover the plastic costs and I'm hoping a toy company can donate some dolls.

"If I could ship these to every hospital it would be absolutely mind blowing.

"I've realised that while I've been designing things for individual children, I've inadvertently got a perfect set of resources for hospital play specialists and that I can keep going and expand these."

He now wants to create a not-for-profit business for 3D printing to allow him to buy more machines, produce on larger scales and so that hospitals can purchase from him.

Nick said: "I know there's a need for this, I got 100 vulnerable children wanting the first thing I made so I know it's worth it.

"Play therapists are trying to normalise disabilities for children and I can make a big difference here - I'm going to make these toys exist on a wider scale."