The heartbreaking story of a little boy named Oliver Nicholson went viral after his parents, Alex and Alyssa, decided to honor his life by raising awareness about the rare condition he had.
Born prematurely along with his twin brother, Oli was diagnosed with VACTERL, which stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheoesophageal fistula, renal anomalies and limb abnormalities.
For 16 months he brightened his parents’ and family’s lives until he passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 17.
While he’d been in the hospital, Oli had become particularly attached to a sloth stuffed animal, which his parents got him as a present after surgery. The sloth became a symbol for the family, especially since Oli had two fingers just like a two-toed sloth.
Shortly after his passing, a family friend alerted Alex and Alyssa to the fact that the Cincinnati Zoo’s two-toed sloth, Lightning, was expecting. A petition was started to convince the zoo to name the new baby after Oliver.
Over 81,000 people signed the petition, and the zoo confirmed it was aware of the request, but no one knew that another tragedy was coming.
“Months of anticipation and excitement surrounding the birth of what would have been the zoo’s first sloth baby ended early this morning when Lightning delivered a stillborn pup,” the zoo shared on Facebook on Sunday.
“Vets and care staff were present for the hours-long labor and are devastated by the outcome. Please keep them in your thoughts as they shift their focus to making sure that Lightning remains healthy and comfortable in the weeks ahead.”
Despite their loss, the zoo workers hadn’t forgotten about Oliver and on the following day, they announced the plan they’d had all along.
“We are renaming our sloth habitat to honor Oliver Nicholson, who would have been two years old today,” the zoo wrote on Facebook. “His family is very pleased to have something positive to think about on what will still be a difficult day for them.
“They posted a nice note of sympathy for our sloth team yesterday when they learned that our sloth Lightning delivered a stillborn.”
Many have been moved by Oliver’s story, and now Oliver’s legacy, thanks to the graciousness of the Cincinnati Zoo.
“We can finally share with everyone our big news,” the Oli & Atti Facebook page shared the day of the announcement. “The Cincinnati Zoo will be renaming the sloth habitat, ‘The Oliver Nicholson Memorial Sloth Habitat.’
“We are humbled and honored that they have decided to honor Oliver in this way. This decision was made before the unfortunate events of yesterday when the baby sloth did not survive and we are glad to be able to announce this today on what would have been Oliver’s 2nd birthday.”
“Thank you to everyone who signed, commented and shared the petition. You made this happen. Thank you to everyone in the VACTERL community. We hope this continues to be a beacon of hope for all the other children and parents out there dealing with this condition.
“We love and miss you so much Oli. We hope we made you proud.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.