Jacquie McGregor was joyful Tuesday when she saw her son, George McGregor, with a beaming smile as Santa Claus stopped by Victoria General Hospital’s pediatric department to deliver toys to children there.
George is a patient at the hospital, so a pre-Christmas visit from Santa brought “a lot of joy” to not only him and other patients but also to parents and health-care staff, according to Jacquie.
“We’ve been here for 21 days today, so this is definitely the most exciting part of our stay,” she told CHEK News after the visit.
For the 19th straight year, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) teamed up with Helijet, a Vancouver-based helicopter company, to act as Santa’s sleigh so he could visit hospitals across the province, including two on Vancouver Island.
“We’ve got a long day ahead of us,” laughed Santa early Tuesday.
This year’s Santa Flights landed at Victoria General before heading to Nanaimo Regional General, then to the mainland with stops at Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian, Abbotsford Regional, BC Children’s and BC Women’s hospitals.
“This is fantastic. To arrive here at Victoria General, to see all these wonderful, wonderful kids,” Santa told CHEK News in B.C.’s capital, the first stop.
“We gave out a little teddy bear provided by Helijet,” he said. “We’re hoping kids will look after the teddy bears for the rest of their lives.”
Last year, CHEK News met with Santa and patients at Naniamo General.
‘That joy of Santa’
Helijet provides BCEHS with 24/7 helicopter service, so Santa ditched the reindeer and opted for propellers to get around.
Joining him for the air ambulance flights was Brian Thornburn, a BCEHS specially trained Infant Transport Team paramedic who often transports babies and young kids with acute or traumatic emergency health needs.
Helijet‘s CEO Danny Sitnam was also on board.
“Normally, I see these children when they’re stressed and unwell, but today, to see them smiling, to see their eyes light up, it’s a privilege,” said Thornburn.
“Helping bring that joy of Santa and Christmas to these kids because they’re not at home right now.”
‘A huge warmth to my heart’
Jacquie hopes George will be back home soon.
Her son had gastrostomy (g-tube) surgery, and “he’s had a series of complications since then,” said Jacquie. “So we’re definitely on the up now, so we’re getting close, I think, to going home. Hopefully by Christmas.”
She says the Santa visit inspired hope, and while the big man in red says it’s all for fun, the day is also quite emotional.
“It’s a very, very emotional moment to see every one of these kids. It brings a huge warmth to my heart,” he said. “It’s just exceptional to watch these kids cheer up for a moment and give them a little bit of a light for a moment in their day of whatever it is they’re going through in these facilities.”
B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix applauds the young patients for their “tremendous courage” and BCEHS and Helijet for their hard work.
“Santa’s visits not only bring joy and hope to our young patients but also celebrate the dedication of our front-line workers, including specialized paramedics who provide crucial medical care for children across the province,” he said.
Thornburn says it’s days like today that make it all worth it.
“The thing I like best about my job is I get to see children get better. We take them to the hospital, and we get to do follow-up and see them as they’re getting better,” he added. “It’s a rewarding job.”
Now, Jacquie is recalling her son’s much-needed elation after the Santa visit.
“He was excited. Having visitors come is exciting,” she added. “I think Santa’s going to bring him a few toys — he’s been a good boy this year.”