Skip to content

Santa arrives by helicopter at Island hospitals to cheer up sick kids

Old Saint Nick makes 19th-annual tour of pediatric wards at B.C. hospitals

Santa whirled into town to the whine of a helicopter’s turbine and whoosh of rotor wash, instead of the jingle of bells and the clop of reindeer hooves, for his visit to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

The jolly old elf stabled his reindeer once again to make his annual trip aboard one of B.C. Emergency Health Services’ Helijet air ambulances to cheer up sick children who are spending their Christmas holidays in hospital.

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital was the second stop of the six-hospital Santa tour, Tuesday, Dec. 12, which started at Victoria General Hospital and included Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian, Abbotsford Regional, B.C. Children’s Hospital and B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre.

“We’ve come to Nanaimo to spread a little bit of cheer to kids that are stuck in the hospital right now … make them feel that they are not forgotten and that Santa loves them all,” Santa said upon landing at the helipad.

His visit marked the 19th year Santa has flown in visit sick children in the NRGH pediatric care and neonatal intensive care wards to give them teddy bears to try to brighten their day.

Old Saint Nick was joined by Brian Thornburn, a specially trained infant transport team paramedic, who cares for and transports to hospital babies and children with acute or traumatic emergency health needs.

“Today it’s an honour and a privilege to participate in a Santa flight. It’s my first time and I’m very excited to be here,” Thornburn said. “Our role is to support Santa in spreading cheer to children that can’t be at home – maybe home by Christmas, but certainly not home right now – and we want them to feel that they’ve not been forgotten, that Santa’s still thinking about them and loves them.”

Thornburn said seeing the children when they’re in recovery and in more positive circumstances than when they arrived in hospital, and interacting with them on a lighter note is a “great joy.”

Dahlia Minter-Booth, 9, was among the children who got a brief, but nonetheless special, visit and a teddy bear from Santa.

“He’s cool. It was fun,” Minter-Booth said.

Aura von Poser, who’s just two and a half months old, likely won’t remember her first visit from Santa, but her parents, Erin Sowerby Greene and Cameron von Poser, will.

“I think it’s a really nice pick-me-up for people who probably don’t want to be here at this time of year and it’s nice to see the old guy out and about,” Sowerby Greene said.

“He has a busy schedule this time of year, but it’s nice of him to stop by,” said von Poser.

Sandra Hirota, child life specialist at NRGH’s pediatric ward, said there was one child who had a “tough go” right before Santa arrived, but the visit brought a smile to her face.

“It’s magical. Everyone loves Santa, both little kids and big kids, so I think everyone’s excited for the day. Everyone’s happy, cheerful and it brings a lot of comfort for kids,” Hirota said.

Danny Sitnam, Helijet president and CEO, also joins the annual Santa flights.

“Everyone at Helijet is proud to work with B.C. EHS and its paramedics to provide 24-7 helicopter service for critically ill patients across the province…” Sitnam said, in a press release. “All of us at Helijet are happy to have this opportunity to help make the holiday season special for these courageous kids and their families who find themselves in hospital instead of at home as Christmas approaches.”

READ ALSO: Santa Claus braves wind and rain to visit girls and boys of Nanaimo

Cameron von Poser, Erin Sowerby Greene and their daughter Aura von Poser received a welcomed visit from Santa when he flew to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 12. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Dahlia Minter-Booth, 9, and her mom Lindsay Booth were among patients and parents who got a visit from Santa at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s pediatric ward Tuesday, Dec. 12. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin
Santa and his entourage make their 19th annual flight aboard a Helijet air ambulance to cheer up sick children at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 12. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
Read more