British Columbia

Canuck Place Children's Hospice patients take flight with Santa

Seventy kids from the Canuck's Place Children's Hospice got to meet Santa Claus early this year, as he co-piloted a special flight.

For many parents, air travel with kids is a daunting task — but not for these families

'She's been making great strides, starting to move her head more, her hands more, her talking is getting clearer, her breathing is getting clearer. So from not much hope, to tons of hope,' said Cherie Ehlert, whose nine-year-old daughter Charlie has spinal muscular atrophy. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Charlie-Anne Cox, 9, has only been in a plane once before, when she was a baby.

She was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that breaks down muscles and deforms bones, before she turned one.

Doctors only gave her a few months to live.

But on Saturday, Charlie was one of 70 kids from Canuck Place Children's Hospice to board a flight co-piloted by Santa Claus himself.

Her mom, Cherie Ehlert, said that in past years she declined the invitations to take Santa's annual flight, worried that it would be too much of a strain on her daughter.

But this year, Charlie, who is growing stronger thanks to breakthroughs in treatment, said she wanted to go.

Santa gave high fives all around. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"They're letting us bring a little insert on for her, so she can be as comfortable as possible," said Ehlert.

"She's been making great strides, starting to move her head more, her hands more, her talking is getting clearer, her breathing is getting clearer. So from not much hope, to tons of hope."

It takes a while for the gaggles of kids to board the plane, some of them carried on by their parents, with their wheelchairs pushed up the ramp behind them.

Once settled in, flight attendants, all smiles in in festive hats, perform the standard security routine, but this time with Santa Claus himself doing the honours.

"It was the night before Christmas and Rudolf was late, so I stopped in Vancouver and I grabbed a Dash Eight," sings Santa, who is also a seasoned pilot.

As the flight flies over Whistler and Squamish, kids are glued to the window seats, taking in the views, which could be mistaken for the North Pole.

For many parents, air travel with kids is a daunting but necessary act. Not for these families. 

"She keeps saying "wow,"" said Ehlert, beaming at her daughter beside her.

"You said you can't wait to touch the what, Charlie?"

"The clouds," answers Charlie.

With files from Jon Hernandez

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