Instead of thumping reindeer hooves and harness bells, Santa arrived to the whine of a turbine engine and buffeting rotor wash when he touched down at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital Tuesday.
Santa’s arrival in a Helijet air ambulance was part of B.C. Emergency Health Services’ annual Christmas toy run, which included Nanaimo in its flight plan this year.
Santa and his elf Giselle Manese, a Helijet employee, visited children in NRGH’s pediatric ward.
St. Nick’s unexpected appearance drew lots of smiles from some young patients and skepticism from others, such as Cadence Thompson, 4, who said she wasn’t sure what she wanted for Christmas and required a little proof the man in the red suit was really Santa.
After seeing Santa pull on his beard, which was real, pat his belly, authenticity of which was never verified, and touching his ring of silver sleigh bells, Thompson was satisfied he was the real deal and accepted a small teddy bear wearing a T-shirt bearing Helijet’s logo.
Emma Montrose, 16, said she hoped to find a Fender acoustic guitar under her Christmas tree, which prompted a conversation with Santa about musical tastes and a promise from Montrose she’d practise diligently.
In a place where children are laid low by serious diseases or waiting for surgery, smiles can be a rare commodity in spite of hospital staff’s best efforts.
“It’s hard to find cheerful things when they’re in the hospital,” Mark Durban, pediatric ward clinical coordinator. “It’s more books and procedures, so it’s nice to find something to brighten up their day.”
Santa was satisfied with his contribution to help kids feel a little bit better.
“I just love it and if I could hug them all it would be wonderful,” Santa said. “With children that are in isolation, it breaks my heart because I’d love to give them a hug because they’re very special kids.”
Brendan McCormick, chief pilot, said this is the first year he’s piloted the toy run.
“This is my first one and it’s just terrific,” McCormick said. “I’ve not had a chance to do it before and I’ll be trying to get back on this one again next year. It’s a lot of fun.”
Nanaimo was the second Island stop after Victoria General Hospital. Santa also visited Lower Mainland hospitals.