The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 20, 2012

Santa uses Internet to visit 60 ill kids at Geisinger

By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item

DANVILLE — DANVILLE - Santa Claus will pay a visit to the hospital rooms of approximately 60 ill children this week. It isn’t a sled and eight reindeer that will bring him to their bedsides, though.

This year, he will be making the trip via an iPad.

The SantaCam program is now in its third year at Geisinger Medical Center’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, allowing children to share some time with Santa over the Internet from his workshop in the North Pole.

“It’s a way Geisinger can bring the wonder and joy of Christmas to everyone in the hospital,” said Mary Tiffin, a manager of integrated technology and social web service, who assumes the role of “head elf” to bring Santa’s iPad to children.

“When we tell the kids Santa found them at the hospital, they’re so excited,” she said.

The SantaCam made the rounds on Monday and Wednesday, with the last visit for the week scheduled for Friday. Each child also received a stuffed animal from Santa’s workshop.

Santa told 10-year-old Collin Gittens, of Mountain Top, that he had been a good boy this year and that he could look forward to some of the video games he wanted for Christmas.

“It brings him cheer,” said Collin’s sister, Jessica. “Since he’s in the hospital, it will make him feel better.”

Collin’s mother, Stephanie, said she appreciated the visit.

The visit ended with Collin promising to be good and saying he felt much better since being admitted the previous day.

Tiffin, dressed up in a green suit, Santa hat and bells for her elf persona, assured him that the elves were hard at work on his presents.

In the room of 9-year-old Kaitlyn Keller, of Scranton, Santa guaranteed her she was on the good list this year.

“She has a lot of stars behind her name,” he said, and added that she would get the Clay Matthews Fathead wall decal she asked for.

“She’s a Green Bay Packers fan,” said her mom, Nikki, laughing.

“It’s never easy to see your child hospitalized,” Nikki said. “This helps to brighten the day.”

“It’s a nice way to pass the time and make it feel like it’s still Christmas, even in the hospital,” she added.

Four-year-old Sienna Karas, of Bloomsburg, was exhausted after being in the hospital for eight days, said Cherie, her mother.

It took a lot of the little girl’s energy to reach out and grab the stuffed animal Tiffin offered her.

But she was still able to tell Santa she would like arts and crafts and Barbies for Christmas.

“She’s been a very, very good girl,” Santa told Sienna’s mother.

“It helps her know Santa’s thinking of her,” said Cherie.

She said she did not know how much longer she and her daughter would be at the hospital.

“As long as Sienna’s home, that would be the best Christmas ever,” she said.

The joy that the young patients get is the staff’s reward, said Tiffin, who has helped out with SantaCam since it began.

“We do it for the kids.”