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Virtual Santa makes a stop at Carle Foundation Hospital

Virtual Santa makes a stop at Carle Foundation Hospital
If you ask Levi Conerly what he told Santa Claus during his visit, the 4-year-old may start singing his own version of his favorite song, “Jingle Bells.” In fact, Levi sang a couple of Christmas songs for Santa and asked him to deliver a blue Power Ranger for his Christmas present.

Instead of sitting on Santa’s knee, Levi was among children, ages 3 to 10, who connected virtually with Santa this year through a tablet thanks to the certified child life specialists at Carle Foundation Hospital. The specialists work to reduce anxiety and stress for children in Pediatrics, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), the Emergency Department, Surgery and anywhere else pediatric patients may be served.

“We don’t want the children to miss out on holiday moments, such as visiting Santa, due to being sick and in the hospital, so we decided to bring Santa to the hospital virtually. This is our second year of having Santa visit virtually and the children find such joy during these visits. Magical moments like these are crucial for children and families especially in the midst of a pandemic,” Bridget Ruholl, M.S. CCLS III, certified child life specialist said.

Levi’s mother, Rita, said her son has asthma, contracted COVID-19 in September 2020, and he has been in the hospital a half dozen times in 2021 with respiratory infections. “He is at the age where he cannot get the vaccine, and he is fortunate Santa found him in the hospital,” she said.

Santa and Levi had a good conversation and Levi made certain Santa knew his family lived in a big blue house so Santa could deliver presents, his mother said. “It’s nice the virtual Santa visit is offered for the holidays.”

A single mother of eight children, Rita works as an account tech at the University of Illinois and she said Levi is her youngest and a “very resilient” child. He turns 5-years-old in November.

Santa, aka Kevin Bridges, made the Carle connection through his daughter-in-law Emily Melick Bridges, a former Carle employee who now works as a pediatric nurse practitioner in St. Louis. She saw a request by Carle Experience Director Theresa Green about the need for a Santa Claus. A software developer, Bridges enjoys dressing up for friends and family so talking virtually with kids seems natural.

Child life specialists offer unique support to the smallest Carle patients and are an important part of the care delivery team.

Categories: Culture of Quality, Community

Tags: Champaign-Urbana, Pedisatrics, Santa

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