Pediatrics unit celebrates the holidays

Every Dec. 24, a special visitor leaves his reindeer by the curb and rides the elevator up to the fourth floor of Shands at UF. Clad in his traditional red garb with Mrs. Claus by his side, Santa Claus ho-ho-hos his way through the pediatrics unit, visiting every child who would like to greet him.

Just like a traditional visit with Santa, the event is photographed, and for many families, that small, instant print-out is a precious memento, says Naomi Martinez, a Shands Child Life specialist.

“Parents will cry because it may be their child’s first Christmas or it may be their child’s last,” Martinez said. “And that’s the part that really gets you, when you see the families.”

Kids don’t stop being kids just because they’re in the hospital. That’s why Shands and UF staff members who work with children band together to make every holiday special on the pediatrics floor, be it Halloween or Hanukkah. Shands Guest Services, Child Life, Arts in Medicine and the clinical staff are just a few of the groups that make the holidays a little brighter for children.

“We really want to show parents that we care about their child, more than just as a sick child who we are going to take excellent care of their medical needs,” said Marie Kasprow, M.S.N., a pediatrics nursing manager. “But we understand their child is a child and we don’t want them to miss out on things.”

Each year, during the winter holiday season, the pediatrics nursing staff picks a theme for the floor and buys decorations — often using their own money. This year for “Winter Wonderland,” intricate snowflakes dangle from the ceiling of the playroom and glittery snowmen lurk around every corner. Activities in the playroom often match the theme, too. In early December, a group of UF students gathered to help children make penguin and snowmen door hangers for their rooms.

Every child who stays in the hospital during Christmas also receives a special surprise when they wake up Dec. 25 — presents the nurses deliver while children are sleeping.

“We try to make this a happy experience for kids,” Kasprow said.

To donate presents for pediatrics patients, you can purchase presents directly from the Shands Children’s Hospital wish list. If donations cannot be made prior to Christmas, toys can still be used for pediatrics patients throughout the year.

April Frawley Birdwell