It is the moment that every child dreams about and no-one was disappointed when Santa dropped in to the Sick Kids.
Armed with piles of presents donated by Evening News readers – ranging from a remote-controlled helicopter to a hand-knitted doll – jolly old Saint Nick made a special delivery to delighted children, including nine-year-old Mackenzie Swanston, who are stuck in hospital while their friends are hanging up their stockings at home.
“It was so lovely to see the little ones’ faces when they saw that Santa had come to visit them. One little girl was quite overwhelmed, hanging on for dear life to her daddy, but still absolutely captivated by Santa’s every move,” said Maureen Harrison, chief executive of the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.
“It was just amazing to see how their eyes lit up. It really makes such a difference to know that people who are not in hospital are thinking about the children and families here.”
Meryl Williams, 15, is one of several children across the Lothians to have found herself in the Sick Kids hospital over the festive period after being admitted last week to undergo a major operation on her spine.
Since she was just eight, she has visited the Sick Kids for clinics and overnight stays more than 50 times, but the operation last Wednesday was her first major surgery at the hospital.
The six-and-a-half-hour laminectomy and spinal fusion was a success, and it is hoped that Meryl will be allowed home in time for Christmas.
Her mother, Heather, praised the “amazing” staff and service at the Sick Kids. She said: “Meryl had the operation because she had lots of numbness and pain in her legs and if she walked far, she would have tingling and weakness in her legs. She has collapsed a few times.”
The mother-of-one was delighted by the results of the Evening News and Lothian Buses Christmas appeal, which aimed to spread a little festive cheer to children in the Capital – especially those who find themselves in hospital over Christmas – and in the process raise some funds for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.
Mrs Williams, who helped to set up support group Short Stature Scotland around three years ago, said: “Appeals like this bring presents in and inject life, and are so important for Meryl, the kids and staff at the hospital. It just brings something magical into the wards.”
The 47-year-old South African, who now lives in East Lothian, recalled: “I knew my daughter was special as soon as I saw her. I knew immediately that she was different, but I didn’t know quite how or why yet.”
It took six weeks for Meryl to be properly diagnosed at a hospital in South Africa and her mother’s instinct was right all along.
After Meryl was wrongly diagnosed with hydrocephalus and then Turner syndrome, Mrs Williams was finally told that her daughter had achondroplasia – one of the most common forms of short-limb dwarfism. The bone growth disorder affects one in every 15,000 to 40,000 births.
The average adult height of a person with achondroplasia is around four feet for both men and women, with Meryl currently measuring just under 3ft 11in.
“When you first get your head round everything, you go into a low,” she said. “You just want what’s best for your child.”
After getting divorced in 2001, Mrs Williams left South Africa with Meryl in December 2002 to get the best possible medical treatment. After two years in Essex, they moved to Scotland and spent a few months in Portobello, before moving to Tranent in February 2005, where Mrs Williams is a teacher at Sanderson’s Wynd Primary and Meryl a third-year pupil at Ross High School.
Meryl said she was looking forward to spending Christmas with her mum and grandmother, Sherryl Davidson, 72, who has flown over from South Africa.
“It doesn’t really feel like Christmas when you’re in hospital, but all the Christmas decorations and the visit from Santa sort of brings it back that it’s Christmas on Sunday,” Meryl said.
As part of our appeal, we teamed up with Lothian Buses to create a touring Santa’s grotto. The campaign was supported by Jenners, Dobbies Garden Centres, Decathlon and Tesco.
Youngsters visiting the grotto received a free gift and their parents were invited to make a donation to our appeal. Presents were also donated for children who will be in hospital over Christmas, with gifts being handed in to the four Lothian Buses Travelshops. Visitors to the grotto donated around £500 to the Sick Kids. All money raised will go towards new equipment for the Sick Kids and Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.
Shaun Burnett, head of marketing and communications at Lothian Buses, said: “We would like to extend our gratitude to everyone who has helped bring a little festive cheer to the young patients at the hospital.”
Wester Hailes Education Centre was among the places visited by the grotto bus.
Santa took time out from his schedule at Dobbies Garden World’s Melville grotto to greet children on the bus.
Simon Martin, general manager of Dobbies in Lasswade, said: “Our big man in red was very excited to lend a hand.”
Louise Masson, general manager at Jenners, added: “This has been a fantastic campaign and it’s been great to see our efforts enjoyed by so many.”