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‘Of course, they’re good!’ Santa pays a visit to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital

By Carolyn Kimmel

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good – and he cares when you are sick.

Santa Claus proved, as always, that nothing can stop him from connecting with children, no matter if they’re at home or in the hospital, and even during a pandemic.

On Friday, he talked with children via iPad – with a little help from Child Life associates who facilitated conversations between the North Pole and patient rooms at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital.

“The kids realize that Santa is really busy making toys right now, and it’s really special that he takes time out to check in with them,” said Sarah Miller, Child Life support associate. “The kids have a sense of wonder and their eyes get really big because they can’t believe that Santa knows them by name.”

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A virtual visit with Santa

The children’s questions for Santa are usually about his reindeer or what kinds of cookies he and Mrs. Claus are baking, Miller said. And of course, many of them put in a gift request.

The visit was made possible by the Child Life team and Penn State Health’s Information Services team, which has run the Santa Connect event virtually for the past dozen years – making it one of the few events that could go on pretty much as normal despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Those who believe in Santa might want to stop reading now.

Is the coast clear?

A look behind the scenes reveals that Santa is stationed across the street from the hospital in a decorated space in the Sipe Avenue building. Child Life staff briefs him on the names of the children and how many siblings they have.

Before the event begins, John Cosgrove, wireless network architect, and his Information Services network team do a test run to ensure a smooth connection between Santa and the kids.

This year, the team was especially gratified that the event could go on to provide some normalcy and distraction for patients, their families and staff.

“The Child Life staff always takes the iPad around to staff so Santa can talk to the nurses and doctors too,” Cosgrove said. “Everyone is excited to see Santa. I think it’s even more important this year when people are feeling more and more isolated.”

Cosgrove said Santa Connect is one of his favorite events of the year.

“In my job, I don’t often get to interact directly with patients, so when I see how excited everybody gets for this event, I think, ‘Wow, this is why I do this,’” he said. “No one wants to be in the hospital, especially at Christmas, but this is how we make a difference – this is how we spread some joy in what can otherwise be a stressful situation.”

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