By Ivan Pereira
Not too many children get the chance to fly to the North Pole, let alone meet Santa Claus and his elves so for a group of ill children, Saturday was their lucky day.
Nearly 60 patients from Schneider Children’s Hospital and their families celebrated the holidays at LaGuardia Airport with a special plane trip to St. Nick’s home. The kids, who ranged from a few months old to 14, were speechless as they received their boarding passes, entered the Airbus 319 aircraft and landed at the North Pole after a 10-minute flight.
“It’s so magical. It makes my son so happy,” said Jennifer Chai of Queens Village, whose 2-year-son Brandon is being treated for leukemia.
As they entered the U.S. Airways terminal around 10 a.m., the families were greeted by costumed reindeer and the NYPD’s marching band, which played various Christmas carols to get everyone in the mood. Some of the children, who were shy and quiet, immediately opened up and danced to the tunes.
Carol Finz, of Central Islip, L.I., whose daughter Julia, 8, is getting treatment for lymphoma, said the event helped her entire family get into the holiday spirit.
“She’s been asking a zillion questions about the North Pole. She’s counting down the days till Christmas,” she said.
The fun kept building while the excited families took their seats in the plane. Many of the children could not hold back their anticipation as the jet went by at lightning fast speed toward Santa’s home.
“I’ve never been to the North Pole before,” said Tyler Pierantozzi, 7, of Long Island, who has leukemia and wanted a new headset for his Xbox. “I really want to meet Santa.
Tyler’s wish was granted as he and his fellow patients gazed in awe at the big man himself and his little helpers who brought a DJ, games and cookies for everyone.
The trip, which was simulated by pilots who taxied the plane around the tarmac outside the U.S. Airways terminal, and party at the North Pole has been a holiday tradition at the hospital for 17 years.
Jan Moskowitz, a Child Life Specialist with Schneider, said the event is very important for her patients because many of them will not be home for the holidays.
“It provides encouragement and a sense that anything is possible,” she said.
Brooklyn father Vernon Holness agreed. He said the flight was beneficial for his 3-year-old daughter, Kayla, to heal from a stroke she suffered two years ago.
Putting a smile on his daughter’s face was a great way to make her feel like a regular kid, according to Holness, who also brought his wife and Kayla’s three siblings along for the ride.
“Here, she’ll be able to see her siblings be happy and smile. She’ll be able to feel that warmth,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.