Santa visits with babies in NICU


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on December 19, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 2:23 PM

AUSTIN -- There's no place like home for the holidays. However, some families will be stuck in hospitals waiting to bring home a precious gift: their children. That's why an Austin health care system is creating a holiday away from home for them.

For the last 11 years, the staff at Seton Medical Center has become family for the tiniest patients in the hospital: the babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU. These babies are oblivious to the fact that Christmas is just days away, but their parents aren't. The fact that these newest arrivals won't be home for the holidays is especially hard on new mothers and fathers..

"I fully expected him to be home in time for Christmas," said Kristina Vallejo, Ian's mother. "Since he's not, it's a little tough. It's a little tough."

"It's really emotional, seeing her like this at this time," said Liliana Fuentes, Melanie's mother.

That's why, for the past decade, staff at the Seton Medical Center have made sure Santa pays a special visit to the NICU. Most of his pre-Christmas visits with children are for the kids. These particular moments are for the parents.

"There's a lot of technology up here, a lot of monitors and machines," said John Lloyd, M.D., the medical director of Seton's NICU. "When we do things like this, we remind families we're people, they're people, and we're able to address those very basic human feelings of family, Christmas and the holidays and say that they're important to us."

Lloyd said the Santa experience has a definite medical benefit, because it helps improve the parents' overall outlook. The mothers KVUE spoke to in the NICU agreed. Both have been here since before Thanksgiving.

"It means a lot," said Fuentes. "Right now, I feel like they're part of my family, because I'm here all day, every day, since she was born."

"It makes it a little more festive," said Vallejo. "I'll be missing out on presents from my little niece and nephews, so I will just be missing everybody. Next year, he'll be there. It helps that everybody is celebrating Christmas around here."

The two babies KVUE visited were both born before Thanksgiving. Ian Vallejo was delivered 15 weeks early, and Melanie Fuentes wasn't due until the last week of February.

For more information on the Seton Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, go here.