The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 19, 2013

Santa calls in from the North Pole to Janet Weis Children's Hospital

By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — Sick children across Geisinger Health System had personal conversations with Santa Claus this week during the sixth annual SantaCam event.

On Monday and Wednesday, Santa’s “head elves” visited kids in their hospital rooms and let them have a personal conversation with “Santa,” using an iPad that gave them some face to face time with Saint Nick himself. About 60 children from Danville’s Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, aged from a few weeks to 18, got to speak to Santa. In a new expansion to the project introduced this year, seven children from Geisinger Wyoming Valley also got a personal message from Father Christmas.

“The kids love it,” said Kelly Hammaker, of the Parent and Family Care Center. Parents are also a big fan of the Santa visit, she said. “Their child might be in the hospital for two to three weeks (during the holidays) and the normal thing to do is go see Santa.”

Hammaker has been working with the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital’s Child Life Services team, who is the organizer of the SantaCam event every year.

The idea started with Mary Tiffin, manager of integrated technology and social web service for Janet Weis, as a way to let sick kids and their parents celebrate the holidays while at the hospital. “We wanted to bring the Santa experience to them,” Tiffin said. “Visits to Santa have been the same today as they have in decades past. They continue to bring the joy and wonder of the season to children.”

Wyoming Valley was added to the program this year due to the facility’s expanded pediatric services. “Santa realized that there were several patients from that hospital whose list he was missing,” Tiffin said. “So he sent his elves to the Geisinger Wyoming Valley to find those little children to remind them to address their letters to Santa.”

The SantaCam program will expand as needed in the future, based on the number of pediatric patients at other Geisinger hospitals. “We want to provide every child the opportunity to experience the time worn tradition of a visit with Santa and the quintessential joy of the holiday, no matter their location,” Tiffin said.

One of the children visited by Santa and his elves at Janet Weis was Lia Hart, 6, of Montoursville. She got to have a heart-to-heart with Santa about what she wanted for Christmas and how she’s been a good girl this year. “It was a big surprise,” said her father, Brian Hart, who wasn’t expecting the Santa visit. “It’s pretty cool, she enjoyed it.”

He and his wife, Amy, hope to be able to bring their daughter home on Saturday after she finishes up chemotherapy treatment.

Children visited by the elves also each received a stuffed animal. Lia got a teddy bear, whom she quickly named Cuddles.

“We thought this year’s SantaCam went great,” Tiffin said. “The joy that it brings to the children in the Hospital is a gift to all those who participate. And the gift of spreading joy and wonder is truly what the season is all about.”