'Amazing smiles': Santa drops in for a visit at Stollery Children's Hospital
Mr. Claus arrived by RCAF helicopter with more than 100 teddy bears for sick kids
Children's faces lit up when Santa Claus made a special appearance Thursday at the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton.
Cheers and shouts of "Santa's here!" echoed through the halls as Saint Nick landed on the hospital's roof, accompanied by the Edmonton Garrison's 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron.
Mr. Claus brought 120 teddy bears with him to give out to kids at the hospital. Squadron members donated the money to buy the bears.
"We had some amazing smiles and it brings joy to us as well," said Maj. Sylvain Lapierre, commanding officer of 408 Squadron.
'I wanted to cry'
The visit from Santa was a welcome reprieve for the Lepine family.
Christopher Lepine has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and spina bifida. The 18-year-old was also born with a hole in his heart, a condition called an atrial septal defect.
Christopher's mom, Katie Ann Lepine, said her son has been in the hospital for the past nine months because he was aspirating his food.
"It was really exciting to see Santa Claus," she said. "When Christopher first saw him, he was really happy.
"He had a big smile on his face and started waving."
Lepine said hospital staff want to move Christopher to an adult bed soon.
She's hopeful they'll be out of the hospital by Christmas because it's been stressful couple of months.
"I wanted to cry … seeing him happy," she said.
This is the first year 408 Squadron has brought Santa Claus for a visit to the hospital.
They got the idea from their sister unit — 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Borden, Ont. That unit delivers toys to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ont. every year.
"I don't get a chance to do this very often," Lapierre said. "We fly a lot of very special people [including] our very own troops, but having the chance to bring St. Nick, that's quite a special opportunity."
Lapierre sat next to Santa for the flight to the hospital. Father Christmas was out of his element, riding in a military chopper instead of his usual sleigh.
"He's obviously used to flying a lot faster than this," Lapierre said. "But I think he's had a lot of fun flying in our helicopter today and managing to see Edmonton at a much slower pace than he normally does."
As for whether Santa was at the controls? "He's probably better in the back as a passenger."
Lapierre hopes it will become an annual tradition in Edmonton, bringing joy to families who need it most.