A picture-perfect Christmas is hard to orchestrate in the best of times. (At least for us. We lean decidedly Griswold.) There's the decorating. The baking and shopping. The December to-do list is endless.
Now imagine preparing for the holidays from the hospital. It's a reality for countless families whose lives are upended by a loved one's illness or injury. And it's especially difficult when those loved ones are little ones. Which is why Mayo Clinic and the Rochester community team up to bring extra cheer to children (and their parents) during December. There are holiday sundae parties and bingo games hosted by Mayo Clinic staff. There's a delivery of some 2,000 balloons by the Hy-Vee Balloon Brigade. The Rochester Police Department and Target staff combine forces for the Miracles and Heroes event, delivering gifts and decorating cookies with kids and their families. And that's just the beginning of the festive fun.
"The holiday spirit is so amazing," says Val Stuve, a child life specialist who helps coordinate the many, many efforts of Santa's holiday helpers. "People come together and want to do things for others. Our families are beyond grateful."
Perhaps especially so for the Snowflake Station, a playroom that is transformed into the hospital's version of FAO Schwarz. Thanks to generous donations from staff and community members, parents are able to shop for their children at no cost. There's even a gift-wrapping station with elves (who look a lot like staff from the DoubleTree Hotel) to help tie bows and package presents. While parents shop, Child Life staff help children make gifts for their family members. "The Snowflake Station is a huge gift to families," Stuve says.
Nehad Saleh can attest to that. In 2018, her daughter, Nareen, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor. Nehad spent last Christmas at her daughter's bedside at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center. "I couldn't do Christmas shopping," she tells us. Then a child life specialist told Nehad about the Snowflake Station. "It was amazing," she says. "It's so generous of people to give." She picked out gifts for Nareen as well as her brother, Aaron, who was back home in Moorhead, Minnesota. "I was able to send him presents so he would know, 'Oh, my mom is thinking of me,'" Nehad says. And she was able to give Nareen an Elsa doll, which the Frozen fan still treasures.
This year, Nareen will receive an even more magical gift: Christmas at home. "She's doing a lot better, thank God," Nehad says. "The chemo is working." She's grateful for that, and for the gifts — Disney and otherwise — that her family received last year. "Mayo is amazing," Nehad tells us. "Everyone is so wonderful. It was a really scary time for us, but all of our needs were taken care of. They took care of my baby. I can't thank everybody enough."
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