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Pint-Sized Patients Receive A Sky-High Christmas Surprise

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Christmas is often a time to remember. But for many of the families inside the Delta hangar at Salt Lake City International Airport, their kids got the chance to forget.

“When your child is sick, the entire family is sick,” said Denna Gregory-Richards. “Every relationship changes and every member of the family is in crisis.”

For dozens of families, the day’s journey began like any other flight. They went to the gate and boarded a 737, but their plane never took off. Instead, it rolled over to the hangar, which had been converted into “Santa’s Winter Wonderland.”

Amid the signs and the decor stood mascots, elves and countless Delta employees, all cheering for each child as they left the plane — and although some weren’t able to walk and had to be carried down the stairs, few were left unable to smile.

Delta pilots and elves cheer for the children as they leave the plane.

An experience like this one provided a much-needed escape for Nyla Jane Richards. For her mother, Deena, it was an opportunity for worries to fade and a chance for her daughter to forget about all those trips to the doctor.

“I had a totally normal pregnancy,” Gregory-Richards said. “The minute she was born, she wasn’t breathing well, her heart was going too fast. Surprisingly, she went into the Newborn ICU. We had this 8.5-pound baby and she lived there for many months.”

For Gregory-Richards, worry has basically become part of the family.

“She doesn’t have the ability to swallow,” she said, speaking of the difficulties Nyla Jane faces. “She spends about 16 hours a day hooked to an IV pole that feeds her into her feeding tube. She also has one functioning lung, a small hole in her heart, and some kidney issues.”

Nyla Jane’s aspirations are a little high. While seated on Santa’s lap, she professed her Christmas wish: “Everything in the whole wide world.” But if you ask her mom, she’ll settle for anything that gives her a chance to break out of her normal routine.

Nyla Jane tells Santa she wants “everything in the whole wide world” for Christmas.

“So much of her day is me talking her into, ‘It’s time to be hooked up to your IV pole, it’s time for me to take care of this wound on your stomach, it’s time for me to give you medicine,'” Gregory-Richards said. “Days like this are crucial.”

Nyla Jane has spent more time at Primary Children’s than her mom can even keep track of. Thanks to Delta, patients from that hospital and those from Shriners Hospital for Children were given the royal treatment.

Instead of simply telling Santa what they hoped for, they all received personalized gifts, courtesy of Delta employees.

Aimee Stratton had a look of surprise on her face when she watched her son Cade unwrap his tablet. Cade’s had trouble with the development of his legs, and Aimee said it causes him a lot of pain.

Aimee Stratton keeps track of the Kindle her son Cade just unwrapped.

“He’s getting to the age where he notices differences between himself and other kids,” she said. “It actually kind of made me cry a little bit, just all of these people here to support these
awesome children.”

Just as important for Gregory-Richards was the event’s focus on the entire family. It wasn’t just patients who received gifts and attention, but their brothers and sisters as well.

“Siblings suffer as they watch their sibling suffer,” she said. “For Delta to provide not just a day for my sick child, they provide a day for my family to take a break from being a ‘Primary
Children’s Family,’ and to just be a family at Christmastime.”

As for Nyla Jane, she may have gotten a pink ukulele instead of “everything in the whole wide world” — but for her, it was more than enough to make sure her day was one she’ll never forget.

Nyla Jane shows off her ukulele to a pilot.

“It allows her to be a kid, and experience the wonder and magic of Christmas,” Gregory-Richards said.

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