December 23, 2010 / 11:17 AM / 7 years ago

Virtual Santa brings the holidays to sick children

3 Min Read

<p>Eight year-old Lily Diangelis speaks with a virtual Santa at Children's Hospital Boston in Boston, Massachusetts December 22, 2010.Brian Snyder</p>

BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - For children in hospital over Christmas, a visit from Santa Claus -- especially a cool, virtual Santa beamed in from the North Pole -- is like a breath of fresh air.

Children's Hospital Boston Wednesday played host to what has become an annual event: a video meeting between the season's most popular personality and some of the city's sickest children.

"You kids have been on my 'nice' list for a long time," the jovial Santa told Kaylee Sullivan, 7, who was joined by her brother Liam and friend Anna for the video chat.

As many as 75 children spoke with Santa, first in the hospital's play area and later in the oncology ward, for those too frail to leave their rooms.

"To have a brief talk with Santa is a magical moment for the kids," said Patrick Regan, enterprise account manager for healthcare at Cisco Systems, which provides the video technology, and the Santa, for the event.

Children are connected to Santa's workshop -- in this case, San Jose, California -- via a high-definition video link, and talk to Santa directly.

Dozens of hospitals in the United States and Canada are on the waiting list to host the events, Regan said.

Making "small memories," especially around the holidays, is important for sick children and their families, said Kirsten Getchell, a child life specialist at the hospital.

"It means the world. We help to heal them, physically and emotionally," Getchell said.

Two children recently wrote letters to Santa warning him that there is no convenient chimney to shimmy down to deliver their gifts, Getchell said.

<p>Six year-old Anna Stark (L) holds up a wishlist for her best friend, seven year-old Kaylee Sullivan (C), during a visit from a virtual Santa at Children's Hospital Boston in Boston, Massachusetts December 22, 2010.Brian Snyder</p>

Lily Diangelis, 8, is bouncy as she tells Santa, "I want a new American Girl doll."

"It's wonderful," said Lily's mother Vicki, of Watertown, Connecticut. "It gives us a fun thing to do for kids who have to be in hospital for a long time."

Lily has been in the hospital since mid-September, waiting for her second heart transplant.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Kaylee Sullivan's father Mark, of Abington, Massachusetts, raved about the event. "They love it," he said.

His daughter was diagnosed with leukemia in November and is recovering from a bone marrow aspiration -- a painful procedure where a small amount of marrow is harvested, typically from the hipbone.

Wearing a knit cap and protective mask, Kaylee sits in a wheelchair swaddled in blankets, and is trailing a battery of monitors and IVs.

"You look so pretty, honey," Santa tells her. "Even though you have that mask on, I can see right through it."

Kaylee gave a thumbs-up as Santa displayed various toys known to be on her wish-list.

Getchell said the event is important for hospital staff as well as for the children.

"You get to see the kids smile when they haven't smiled all day -- and to see them as children, as people, not just as patients."

Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Patricia Reaney

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