Elf on a Ledge

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Elves Surprise Kids at Riley at IU Health

One by one, children filed into playrooms at Riley at IU Health; some via red wagons, others wheeled in chairs and a few walked in with their parents. They weren’t sure what kind of holiday surprise awaited them 10 days before Christmas, and some weren’t feeling up to it.

“We had a rough morning and Nathaniel was in a lot of pain, refusing to walk and really struggling,” said Cassandra Siktberg of her 2-year-old son, recovering for a back surgery to treat tethered cord syndrome. “His therapist came to see him and we thought it would be a good reason to get him moving to another room.”

Children in the 9th floor playroom gazed out the large windows and across the Indianapolis landscape. Suddenly, a shoe dipped down from the top of the window… the curled toe of an elf! Adults and children alike gasped in surprise as three of Santa’s elves dropped into view, suspended by ropes from the roof of Riley at IU Health.

“It was cool!” said 7-year-old Tarell Caudle of Indianapolis, undergoing treatment for a burn. “It looked like he was going to lose his shoe.”

“How cool was that?” said 3-year-old Maxim Thompson from Ingalls, Ind. Maxim took photos of the surprise with a new camera he received.

The elves—who have been known to wash windows for American National Skyline Inc. when they are not making toys for Santa—swung from side to side at the window of each floor, waving at children and pressing their hands to the glass.

"I can't explain how good it felt to be able to make that connection with those kids, and to see the smile on their faces when I touched that glass!” said elf Larry Green, of Indianapolis, Ind.

“I was kind of scared for them,” said 16-year-old Brandi Boehme from Logansport, Ind., who watched from the 9th floor as she recovered from surgery. “I enjoyed watching- it just kind of got my mind off everything.”

For the children, it was a chance to experience a bit of holiday magic while undergoing treatment. The elves were an exciting distraction, dancing along the windows.

“I could just stay with them forever,” sighed six-year-old Vance Flagg from Knox, Ind. Vance, who has been at Riley at IU Health since September undergoing treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) was relieved when the elf drop-in was followed up by a visit to his room by Santa Claus himself. Vance was worried Santa might not find him in the hospital. “He had a fluffy beard and brought me a Lego boat and shark.”

Along with the elves, patients received a visit from Santa and photos with Saint Nick. The unique experience was just one of the many special events arranged by Riley at IU Health year-round.

“Many of our patients can’t be home for the holidays,” said Dr. Jeffrey Sperring, President and CEO of Riley at IU Health. “Our goal is to bring children every ounce of normalcy possible while hospitalized.”

The window elves were enough to bring some holiday spirit to little Nathaniel who didn’t want to leave his room that morning.

“He’s 2, so this is the first year he understands about Christmas so it was a joy to see his face,” said Cassandra. “He woke up this morning and said, ‘Is it Christmas again? Where’s Santa and my elves?’ We were not excited to be living here but things like this make all the difference in the world.”

“That was so nice!” said Nathaniel.

Our special elf guests even made an appearance on the NBC Today Show.

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