INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana – There was a knock on the door, and he stepped into the room. "Well, good morning, young lady, and Merry Christmas!" Six-year-old Kamryn bolted upright in the patient bed, her eyes widened and beamed as she proudly proclaimed, "Look Mommy! It's Santa Claus, he's really here!"
Saint Nick chatted with the girl, asking her and her mother, Megan, how she was feeling and making friendly small talk. He turned his attention back to Kamryn and handed her a small stuffed toy. "I know you've been good all year," he said. "Now, you get well, and I'll be stopping by your home very soon."
The visit was just one of the many stops Santa made at Franciscan Health Indianapolis on December 11, 2019, greeting patients of all ages, other visitors, hospital staff and senior leadership. This day, the jolly old elf traded his signature heavy red coat and accoutrements for a more pristine Victorian look, accented with bells on boots, a hand-carved red-and-green walking stick and a tony shoulder bag.
"I've been doing this several years and really enjoy visiting hospitals," said Santa (aka Ron Gibson of Brazil, Indiana). "I particularly enjoy seeing the faces of children light up when I walk into their rooms. And the adults are no different – they understand who I am and what I represent." Gibson has done the Santa switcheroo for more than two decades.
Saint Nick's visit was made possible by the Terre Haute-based Trans-Care Ambulance, which operates large-scale medical transportation throughout Central Indiana, serving hospitals such as Franciscan Health and other healthcare facilities. The company's owner and CEO, Russell Ferrell, started the tradition of the hospital visitations more than four years ago.
"It's our way of giving back to the communities we serve," said Ferrell. "Being in the hospital is never easy at any time of the year, and especially so during the holidays. We hope this makes it easier for patients and their families."
Escorted by staffer Phyllis Kolb of Women & Children's Services, Santa visited pediatrics, NICU and other departments throughout the hospital. Virtually every stop included the perfunctory cellphone photo or selfies. Some staff members were challenged to select one of two wooden tokens which revealed the status of their behavior during the year: "naughty" or "nice." The result was an even split.
As the visit to Franciscan Health Indianapolis wound down, Santa, Ferrell and another Trans-Care representative, set their sights on the next stop – Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center in downtown Indianapolis. For Gibson, that venue has special meaning as he is a retired Air Force veteran.
And if you ask Saint Nicholas about his traditional beard, he will quietly share a secret with you.
"I start growing it in June," he explained, thoughtfully running a few fingers through his chin whiskers. "Then I cut it off just as soon as I can on December 26."
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