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Riley kids’ ornaments shine brightly on Simon Family Tower tree

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Patients and families put their own special stamp on Christmas tree with help from Rotary Club


For more than 20 years, John Eby has been a part of Riley Hospital for Children’s tree-trimming party. That’s before it even had a name.

Back then, Eby, a member of Riley’s facilities team, used to help decorate a big Christmas tree in an older part of the hospital. But a co-worker had a better idea: Why not invite patients and their families to come down and help do the decorating?

On Thursday night, Eby was sorting through a large tub of homemade ornaments from years past. He was helping to trim a tree in the Simon Family Tower, while Rotary Club of Indianapolis members manned craft stations to help young patients make new ornaments in the shape of reindeer, Christmas trees, snowmen and other festive figures.

It’s an event the Rotary Club has sponsored for eight years, thanks in part to Ramona Adams, past board president, who was a Riley kid herself when she was a third-grader. Adams underwent surgery for pericarditis at age 8 and was hospitalized for several weeks. Dr. John Brown was her surgeon.

Riley will always be close to her heart, she said.

Same with Eby, who has worked at Riley for 41 years. This Christmas party is his celebration of the holiday.

“I enjoy seeing the kids,” he said, his voice betraying his emotions. “I don’t really have Christmas at home, I don’t ever put up a tree.”

His kids are grown, and his grandkids live far away.

So on this night, with Christmas music playing in the background, he helps trim a tree at his home away from home.

Melissa Sexton, who leads Child Life Services at Riley, wonders what kind of party there would be without people like Eby.

“When I think about this party, it wouldn’t be the same without John because he captures the history of the ornaments, and he has a story from every party. To see how a staff member can capture those memories, I just think about what that impact must be on our patients and families,” she said. “We are blessed to have some pretty cool traditions at Riley.”

Layden Mertens is only 9, but he knows what’s cool, and that includes reindeer. He was busy making a reindeer ornament but took time to talk for a minute during the party.

Here’s a bit of our conversation:

Have you ever seen a live reindeer? “No, but I heard when I was in the car my uncle ran over one. It was not our fault.”

Are you excited for Christmas? “I know how to spell nine. N-I-N-E.”

What are you asking Santa for this Christmas? “Jordans! Santa will get them.”

Have fun making your reindeer! “Wait, I got one more thing to say – Happy Christmas!”

Indeed. Happy Christmas to all.

-- By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist
   Email: mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

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