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Lifestyle & Human Interest

Family Sends Heartbreaking Request to Cincinnati Zoo Following Tragic Death of 1-Year-Old Son

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Little Oliver Nicholson was only with his family for 16 months, but in that time he touched countless lives and made a difference in the world around him.

Born prematurely with his twin brother Atticus, Oli had a rare condition known as VACTERL (vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheoesophageal fistula, renal anomalies and limb abnormalities). He went through multiple surgeries and procedures to help him thrive.

In January, after surgery to connect his esophagus to his stomach, parents Alex and Alyssa bought him a sloth stuffed animal, which quickly became his favorite.

“He adored that sloth stuffed animal,” Alex told Fox News. “He would sleep with him every night. We had a giant ‘hang in there’ sloth balloon in his hospital room, all of the nurses loved it.

“He was always so calm, and so patient; and so happy to be here.”

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Soon Oliver became known for the sloth theme, especially relevant because Oli himself only had two fingers — just like a two-toed sloth.

For months the family endured uncertainty as to Oli’s future, but they were told after the surgery that they were in the clear.

It came as a total shock to everyone when Oliver suffered a complication during a routine medical procedure that ended up taking his life on Feb. 17.

After such an unexpected and devastating loss, Alex and Alyssa are honoring him by sharing his story and hoping to make people more aware of the struggles faced by those who face VACTERL.

“We said, ‘how do we continue Oliver’s legacy?’ By spreading awareness about his condition,” Alex said.

During the funeral, many who knew about Oli and his beloved sloths mentioned another way to honor the young boy: The Cincinnati Zoo’s two-toed sloth, Lightning, was about to have a baby. What better way to celebrate Oli’s life than to have his favorite animal named after him?

“Everyone was saying it was a sign and speculating that it would be named after Oliver,” reads the ‘Name the baby sloth after Oliver’ petition the family set up at the request of friends. “We later found out that Lightning was a two-toed sloth which sort of resembled Oliver’s one hand with only two fingers.

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“We had his ‘hang in there’ balloon above him and buried him with a lovey sloth.”

“It just seemed like a pretty crazy coincidence,” Alex acknowledged. “He loved his stuffed sloth. That’s where it sparked the idea.”

The petition has gotten close to 50,000 signatures, but so far the zoo’s keeping mum about the name choice — though they have confirmed they’ve seen the Nicholson’s request.

“We’re at 46,530 signatures!” the page set up for Oli and Atti shared on Aug. 14. “We’re slowing down but we never even imagined getting this far. Thank you to everyone. Hopefully soon the baby sloth will be here.”

While the family waits to see what the baby sloth name verdict will be, Alex knows that his son’s life was incredibly meaningful, whether or not the zoo picks up his name.

“He was here for 16 months, he left us very soon and he left me with more life lessons than I could have ever taught him — it had to be so that I could help others I think that’s how we feel.”

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking