Sloth or Penguin? Kids weigh in, at Morristown children’s hospital

A tree sloth named Einstein at Zoo Day at Morristown Medical Center, May 17, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A tree sloth named Einstein at San Diego Zoo Kids launch, Morristown Medical Center, May 17, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin


The primary election is weeks away. But already, Morristown needs a recount.

Tree Sloth and African Penguin finished in a dead heat Friday in a bid for the affections of young patients at the Goryeb Children’s Hospital at Morristown Medical Center.

These exotic candidates edged out an owl, an armadillo and a furry little rodent whose species escapes us. The show-and-tell was presented by staff from the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, to introduce San Diego Zoo Kids, a series of nature programs now playing on the hospital’s internal TV network.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover over images for captions:

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“Sloth!” proclaimed Carter Cortese, 7, when asked for his preference in our highly unscientific, unofficial exit poll.  Why did this shaggy, tree-dwelling mammal (who answers to “Einstein”) capture Carter’s fancy?  “It was really big.”

“Penguin,” countered 3-year-old Macy Valentina, who was visiting an ailing cousin. Why Penguin? “‘Cause he swims.”

Kids wheeled into the lobby of the 44-bed children’s hospital for the animal parade are battling some nasty illnesses: Cancer, kidney disorders, blood ailments. Raleigh, a pretty 3-year-old girl from Montville, undergoes a transfusion every week.

She could not wait to pose for a picture with Penguin. Which was the point of Friday’s exercise, and of the TV channel, according to hospital officials.

Some 100 pet therapy teams regularly roam the wards of Morristown Medical Center with friendly dogs, and their interaction with patients works wonders, said medical center President Trish O’Keefe.

“We have seen how it decreases anxiety in children,” said O’Keefe, owner of a black Labrador retriever named Gipper.

Goryeb is the first hospital in New Jersey to show San Diego Zoo Kids, an educational series produced by the famous San Diego Zoo with backing from philanthropist Denny Sanford.

Video: ‘San Diego Zoo Kids’ comes to Morristown Goryeb Children’s Hospital:

Debra Erickson of the San Diego Zoo choked up recounting the story of Sadie, a 9-year-old from Salt Lake City who watched these programs and found courage to face the amputation of her leg.

“She said, ‘Animals lose their arms and legs all the time, and they’re fine. And I’m going to be just fine, too!'”

Two years later, Sadie has a prosthetic limb. “She has animal drawings all over it, and she’s taken up horseback riding. And that shows you the power that this TV channel can have,” Erickson said.

Patients can watch San Diego Zoo Kids on WAMMC TV, an in-house network created by the Women’s Association for Morristown Medical Center.

WAMMC TV also features Calling All Kids, a professionally produced series of illustrated children’s stories read by nurses (including O’Keefe), doctors, volunteers, celebrities, authors, and patients themselves.

Friday’s guests included Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty and many members of the Women’s Association.

While kids are resilient, said Dr. Walter Rosenfeld, chairman of pediatrics at the children’s hospital, “it’s so important to have these kinds of things” to keep their spirits up.  Earlier this week, hospital staff treated children to an ice cream social.

“It’s awesome what they do here,” said Jeremy Cortese, Carter’s dad.

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