The halls of the Foothill Regional Medical Center’s Pediatric Subacute Care Unit are decked with stockings outside the rooms of the children.
Throughout December events such as “Cookie Sensory Play,” “Snow Play,” and even a “Dance Party,” will be held to bring holiday happiness to the patients, who suffer from severe ailments ranging from congenital defects to severe head and brain trauma.
The Tustin Police Department added to the positive holiday vibe as five members of the department, toting wagons laden with gifts, dropped by to deliver presents to the 29 students on the unit. Police Service Officer Jennifer Jones, who heads up the police visit each year, said Tustin has held the gift-giving events for the past 21 years, even through the pandemic.
“We’re all about tradition and we wanted to keep this tradition going,” Jones said. “(The patients) know we’re thinking about them. They’re not forgotten.”
This year, because of continuing COVID-19 concerns, police personnel were unable to enter the patients’ rooms to deliver gifts individually. Instead, they stopped in the hallways to wave and greet children, some of whom were allowed to come to the thresholds of their rooms.
“(The children) love it,” said Lalla Mata, an LVN on the unit. “It gives them some sense of family.”
The Pediatric Subacute Care wing at Foothill Regional Medical Center is unique in Orange County as the only hospital-based pediatric subacute program. The unit is one of only 10 pediatric subacute programs in California and the largest in Orange County.
“All (of the patients) have neurological disorders. Most are non-verbal,” said Julianne Schlegel, recreation therapist for the unit.
The patients all require round-the-clock care, with many on ventilators or requiring tracheostomies to breathe. Despite the limitations, the children, who range in age from 10 months to 20 years, were able to express their joy during the visit with smiles.
“If they have some spark of joy that makes it worthwhile,” Jones said. “We just want to bring joy.”
One of the patients waved to his visitors, while another said “hello,” and “goodbye,” to each visitor that passed her door. Although the children were unable to exchange hugs and thanks, the interactions were no less rewarding for the Tustin police personnel.
“It’s in the giving, that’s the reward,” said Civilian Commander Kat Thomas.
Each child received a personalized gift of clothing as well as personal hygiene supplies such as unscented shampoos and lotions. Each also received a lighted holiday tree figurine in pink for girls and green for boys, and a card. Mata said many of the children come from poor families and some are transported from as far as the East Coast for treatment.
“We have families who have very little, so they enjoy it because the kids get something,” she said. “It’s a very nice gesture.”
In addition to Jones and Thomas, Tustin Police Department was represented by officers Jasmine De Leon and Glenn Hollingshead IV, and Police Service Officer Briana Landsgraf.
Not forgotten in the event was the caregiving staff with a large Nurses Appreciation Basket filled with Starbucks coffee drinks, Ghirardelli chocolate, and other treats.
After the visitors passed through the halls and greeted the children, police personnel retired to the activity room, identifiable by a sign that read “Chillin’ with my Snowmies.” There, the packages were delivered to be individually passed out later.
As the police prepared to leave, Schlegel thanked them.
“It’s a highlight for us,” she said.
“It is for us, too,” Thomas said.