‘It really helps the kids’: Santa surprises pediatric patients at Island hospitals

'It really helps the kids': Santa surprises pediatric patients at Island hospitals

Pediatric patients at several B.C. hospitals, including on Vancouver Island, were treated to a pre-Christmas visit from Santa Claus himself, who flew in by air ambulance on Tuesday.

For the 18th year, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) teamed up with Helijet, which acted as Santa’s sleigh to deliver toys and Christmas cheer to hospitals like Victoria General and Nanaimo Regional General.

Santa and the team also stopped by the Lower Mainland, visiting Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian, Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, according to Helijet.

“It’s absolutely amazing. You’ve got some extremely sick children and all of a sudden, they brighten up,” Santa Claus told CHEK News after landing in Nanaimo.

“I can’t explain that reaction, but it’s like something’s been lifted off them. All of a sudden they go, ‘Oh, wow, Santa!’ which is so nice, it really is.”

Joanna Stefani, an Infant Transport Team paramedic with BCEHS, said she was filling in for Rudolph and the gang as she ushered Old Saint Nick through the skies.

“Santa’s reindeer are having a little break to get ready, so they sent me along some gear so I can stand in for them and get Santa where he needs to go today,” Stefani said.

But it’s not just the kids who anticipate the visit.

“Most of the hospital staff are excited to see us. At first, they’re lined up. It’s nice for them. It’s a good break for them to be able to see something like this happen,” Stefani said.

“And then the children, a lot of them, unfortunately, are in isolation, but they get to come to the window and get their picture with Santa. They’re just so excited. It’s just such a nice change from what we’re normally seeing in my line of work, for sure, with kids.”

Six-year-old Jasper Perkins, a patient at Nanaimo General receiving an iron infusion, said he “just about passed out” when the jolly man stopped by his room.

“I had no idea,” he exclaimed.

Jasper’s dad, Brad Perkins, was grateful too.

“I think it’s pretty cool. It’s awesome that they do that for the kids. You really see everybody light up — the whole floor will light up. It kinda lasts for a few days. It really helps the kids,” he said.

“Jasper was a little overwhelmed. I think he pretended to faint there for a second. He was tearing up for a little bit too.”

Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, sums up the visits in one word: magical.

“They lift the spirits of children receiving care in our hospitals. At the same time, the Santa visits also celebrate the dedication of our front-line workers, including specialized paramedics who provide such crucial medical care,” Dix said in a release.

At the helicopter landing pad in Nanaimo,  Santa said he was “glad to be here,” adding, “I want every child to know that if they’re in hospital over Christmas, Santa would never forget you.”

Now Jasper’s hoping to return the favour and surprise Santa with a visit.

“Like how do you get there, to the North Pole?” he asked.

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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