Jennifer Saltman, Vancouver Sun
SURREY — Jithu Srikanth is known around the Surrey Memorial pediatric oncology ward for his generosity. On Tuesday, it was the five-year-old’s turn to receive a neat gift.
With jingling bells and hearty “Ho, ho, hos,” Santa Claus paid an early visit to the hospital, stopping for a few minutes in Srikanth’s room to present him with a small stuffed seal.
“He’s very lonely and very scared, and we were wondering if you could take care of him?” Santa asked Srikanth. “Would you do that for us? Give him big hugs?”
Srikanth was shy at first, but ended up hugging the seal, stroking its fuzzy head and giving Santa a high-five.
After Santa left, Srikanth said he was “nice to me” and was happy to have met him. Srikanth was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in May. Ewing sarcoma is a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue.
Padmanaban said the Santa visit was “really good” for his son because they’ve missed Christmas parties with friends and family this year. He hopes to take his son home this Saturday.
Surrey Memorial was Santa’s third stop on a five-hospital tour, which was organized by B.C. Emergency Health Services. He left the reindeer at home and travelled by Helijet, escorted by a trusted elf and two infant transport paramedics.
As he walked the hospital hallways, he enthusiastically greeted children who ran up to him and posed for photos.
Santa, who wanted to stay in character and declined to reveal his true identity, said he enjoyed his time with the children and their families.
“I’m sorry to see them in the hospital, but it was sure nice to visit them,” he told reporters.
Alison Everett, a child life specialist at Surrey Memorial, said events like Tuesday’s “normalize” the hospital experience for sick children.
“At a time in their lives when little feels normal, it’s a piece of the outside world,” Everett said, who added that it’s also good for the parents to feel that their children aren’t missing out.
“The parents enjoy it as much as the kids.”
The infant transfer paramedics who escorted Santa also enjoyed themselves.
“It’s awesome,” said Darrel Hunsbedt. “Usually we’re flying in for less-than-perfect circumstances and today we’re flying in to bring smiles to these kids’ faces, so it’s really nice.”
George Madden said it was a reaffirming experience.
“It’s been very, very pleasurable, very memorable. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously,” said Madden. “The joy and the excitement the kids have when they see Santa, their faces just — they just melt your heart.”
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