The look on their faces says it all. No matter how down and out a child who’s spending the week before Christmas in the hospital can feel, it all seems to change, if only for a moment, when Santa calls her by name.
“We’ve been doing this for 12 or 13 years, and each time, it’s a special experience,” said Jack Sovik, one of the amateur radio group’s members. “Ham radio is about helping people, and our members tend to be generous, caring individuals. Seeing the kids’ and their parents’ faces moves us as much as it does them.”
The radio operators, escorted by hospital staff, visited nearly 20 children in the ER and on patient floors carrying novel-looking radio equipment patched directly into the “North Pole.”
Hospital staff enjoyed the experience just as much, huddling around radios outside the patient rooms to listen in on the conversations.
“The children are awed by the radio itself,” Sovik said. “It gets them excited. It’s not a computer like they might be used to, but looks more like a walkie-talkie.
“We don’t know what caused the child to be in the hospital, but we get so much out of seeing everyone’s reactions and providing a little break from their situation through our hobby.”
While most of the children will be able to spend Christmas at home, few of them would have otherwise had the chance to visit Santa and put in gift requests before the big day, so radioing in is a big deal.
“The children are excited to hear Santa on the other end, and it’s always cool to see their reactions when Santa knows their name before they tell him,” said Rebecca Kuzman, an Akron Children’s child life specialist who helps coordinate the event. “And Santa tends to hear more requests of a healing nature than he does for toys. It’s truly a touching experience for everyone involved.”