When Santa Claus walked into the community room at Foothill Regional Medical Center to hand out gifts to several children in wheelchairs gathered there, the little girl with the brown ponytail, patterned leggings and neon pink socks squealed and kicked her feet.
Her joy was the easiest to interpret among the group, but Santa and the more than a dozen uniformed Tustin PD officers who traveled to the hospital with him know their presence makes a difference to the patients there.
Every year employees from the PD and City Hall donate items to fill a Christmas gift bag for the children who call the hospital on Newport Avenue home.
These kids and young adults — 30 of them ranging in age from 5 months to 21 years old — have suffered a traumatic brain injury leaving them in need of constant medical care.
Some were born with the injury while others fell victim to an accident, such as choking, drowning, a skateboarding crash, or other type of incident causing a head injury.
There are patients who eventually make it back home to their families, but others take up permanent residence at Foothill Regional.
Dedicated nurses and doctors care for the patients every day and many of the patients have families who visit often.
But some of these young residents are not fortunate enough to have visitors during the holidays, which is why Tustin PD 15 years ago committed to bringing some holiday cheer to the patients there.
Police Services Officers Marilyn Packer, Adriana Tokar and Megan Evans, make sure the event runs smoothly and that each child is properly spoiled with gifts.
The medical center staff does their part, too. The hallways are expertly decked with wreaths, ornaments, tinsel and other decorations and the nurses seem to wear permanent smiles as they make their rounds.
Tustin PD showed up Wednesday, Dec. 7, morning with three wagons full of gift bags stuffed with things the children need most — clothing, plush animals, tactile toys, hair brushes, toiletries and CD players.
Each child also was gifted an LED snowflake ornament to hang in their rooms.
“Every year we try to come up with some special gift to give every child,” Packer said. “This is something fun for them to look at in their rooms.”
Many of the children at Foothill Regional can’t express their gratitude verbally or even physically, but Packer said she can tell they enjoy the visit.
“Some of them express with their eyes even though they can’t talk. They show excitement that way,” Packer said. “And the families who are there are so appreciative.”
Those from the department and city who participate are thankful, too.
They are happy to have an impact on children and young adults faced with such a difficult road ahead and thankful for the reminder to always stay grateful.