HOMPAGE: www.danieljvance.com




By Daniel J. Vance


  For most Americans, the time from Christmas to New Year's is full of joy, warm hugs and family traditions. For children in hospitals and away from friends though, the time can be lonely.

  "We've had children in our hospital from 48 states and 15 foreign countries," said Amy Coad, child life specialist, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minn. Established 1897, Gillette was the nation's first public hospital for children with disabilities. Today, it often treats children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury (including traumatic), spinal cord injury, spina bifida, and facial and cranial anomalies. During my daughter's stay, I met families at Gillette from Indiana, Montana, and Louisiana.

  The renowned hospital tries to make the holidays bright.

  "Community groups enjoy coming in before Christmas," said Coad. "Santa Claus visits a lot, but we limit his visits so as not to confuse the kids. Recently, members of the Broadway show "Oliver" performed a skit for patients. The St. Paul Police brought in carloads of toys and games. Gifts are also given to patients here on December 25 and are used as birthday gifts throughout the year."

  NHL Minnesota Wild players shared joy and hockey pucks. The many professional athletes that visit seem to have a strong sense of social responsibility.

  "Some of our patients are discharged before Christmas or are given a 'pass' to go home for the day," said Coad. "Of the patients staying December 25, many are in intensive care or critical condition, or they are from out of state and can't leave for the day." For these patients, the hospital offers conference rooms for family celebrations. Some nurses dress up as Santa's helpers or elves.

  She recounted a story. "On December 22 two years ago, a mother and son were traveling near here when they were in an automobile accident. They couldn't celebrate Christmas at home in Michigan. The son's goal was to celebrate there, so he kept his Christmas tree up in his room long after the holidays as his motivation to get well. Finally, they celebrated at home in late April."

  Coad cautioned well-meaning community groups. First, as with any hospital, call beforehand to coordinate donations or patient visits. Don't just drop in. When visiting, keep conversations limited and light, and avoid asking questions about a patient's health or discharge status. And don't visit if you're sick.

  For more, see www.gillettechildrens.com and www.danieljvance.com