Santa and Sabrina Preziosa, his assistant elf with Helijet, strike up a conversation in an elevator on the way to visit sick children in Nanaimo Regional General Hospital’s pediatric ward Tuesday. The visit marked Santa’s 15th annual hospital hop to bring cheer to children in hospitals on the Island and Lower Mainland. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Santa helicopters into Nanaimo for hospital visit

Santa and B.C. Air Ambulance team bring cheer to sick children on annual hospital hop

Santa took to the skies Tuesday on his 15th year of hospital hopping aboard a B.C. Air Ambulance to visit sick children in Nanaimo, Victoria and the Lower Mainland.

Santa arrived at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital shortly before 11 a.m. with an entourage that included an elf, B.C. Air Ambulance flight crew and an infant transport team paramedic to spread some Christmas cheer throughout the hospital as he made his way with a hearty ho ho to the pediatric ward where he visited children and gave each of them little stuffed teddy bears.

Nanaimo was the second stop on the flight itinerary that started at Victoria General Hospital and continued through the afternoon with stops at B.C. Children’s, Surrey Memorial and Royal Columbian hospitals.

“Oh it’s a delight,” said Santa. “I just absolutely love it, but I’ll tell you, Santa loves coming here and putting smiles on faces, but it’s the doctors, the nurses and paramedics who are the real heroes, so please don’t ever forget that Santa’s one day and they’re 365.”

Ray Sims, a member of B.C. Emergency Health Services infant transport team who has been a paramedic since 1973, said joining the annual flights is his way of giving back.

“I see the rewards of our work in the eyes when we show up and see these young ones and their eyes open up and just the look on their faces. It’s so rewarding and that’s what makes it all worthwhile for us,” Sims said.

Danny Sitnam, president and CEO of Helijet, which operates the helicopters for the B.C. Air Ambulance Service, said he looks forward to the Santa flights each year, which run on a tight schedule to get visiting time in at all the hospitals in the span of a few hours, plus the helicopters help keep Santa’s reindeer rested for their big run from the North Pole at Christmas.

“It’s something you look forward to and we enjoy every year the opportunity to participate and just come in and put some smiles on children’s faces,” Sitnam said. “It’s a good thing … and we have to keep the reindeer in mind and give them a break. We’ve got about 1,500 horsepower in the back.”



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Grayson Weston, seven months old, meets Santa for the first time with his parents Dave and Tiffany at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Tuesday. B.C. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Ray Sims, a paramedic with the B.C. Emergency Health Services infant transport team, left, Sabrina Preziosa, Santa’s assistant elf from Helijet, and Santa himself flew to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital to bring some Christmas cheer and teddy bears to sick children Tuesday. (Chris Bush/The News Bulletin)

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