Local News

Tuesday, Dec 25 2012 03:45 PM

Football players, Santa deliver gifts to Memorial's pediatric wing

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    "Merry Christmas Santa" 4-year-old Madeleine Malpartida told Santa, (Bob Gibbons) after he and the Bakersfield Sharks semi-pro football team visited the pediatric ward at Bakersfield Memorial hospital on Christmas day giving gifts to children who had to spend Christmas in the hospital. Madeleine spent Christmas day in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. Her parents said they felt blessed for the visit on Christmas day.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Charge nurse Rachael Blackwell, RN, fans Santa as he and the Bakersfield Sharks semi-pro football team make the rounds visiting children in the pediatric unit at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital on Christmas day.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Santa and members of the Bakersfield Sharks semi-pro football team bring gifts for children having to spend Christmas Day in the pediatric unit of Bakersfield Memorial Hospital and also donated X Box video games for the pediatric rooms.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Charge nurse, Rachael Blackwell, holds 4-year-old Julius Garza as Santa, (Bob Gibbons,) visits children at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital's pediatric unit on Christmas day.

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BY REBECCA KHEEL Californian staff writer rkheel@bakersfield.com

After Santa emptied a bag of gifts, unveiling one by one a pair of unicorn slippers, a Cabbage Patch Kids doll, a cheerleader doll and an iPod -- he had a promise for Madeleine Malpartida.

"Next year when I come see you, I'm going to see you at your home where you're all better," Santa told her.

Before he could finish his thought, Madeleine, 4, hugged him tight, and he returned the embrace.

Santa was giving gifts to Madeleine as part of his rounds at Memorial Hospital's Lauren Small Children's Medical Center on Christmas Day. He was there with the Bakersfield Sharks semi-professional football team, who organized the gift-giving event.

The Sharks amassed the gifts -- eight sacks of toys and eight Xbox 360s for the pediatric intensive care unit -- over the past couple of months through donations from companies, toy drives and individuals dropping off toys. They contacted the hospital to find out when they can deliver the toys, and the hospital asked them to come on Christmas.

"The hospital told me that the kids that can be released are, but the kids that can't are stuck here. That's all I needed to hear," said Santa, otherwise known as Bob Gibbons, the Sharks' general manager.

And the children and parents spending Christmas in the hospital were grateful for the team's efforts.

Julius Garza, 4, who was in the hospital with pneumonia, was supposed to be home by Christmas, said his mom, Angelica Garza. But they had to stay another day, which upset him. The gifts of a guitar, a keyboard, toy cars, alligator slippers and an iPod were sure to cheer him to up, she said.

Jace Escandon, 2, who was being treated for diabetes, was hesitant at first to let Santa into his hospital room. But he eventually invited Santa in by offering him a french fry.

"I heard you love making noise, so here's a keyboard for you to play," Santa said as he pulled the instrument out of a bag.

Jace stroked the keys as Santa also revealed a toy guitar, a foam dart gun and an iPod. Jace's mom, Jennifer Escandon, said the gifts are perfect for him.

"Especially the music," she said. "He plays the drums."

She's thankful, she said, that the Sharks went out of their way to spread cheer to others on Christmas.

For the Sharks' players, the cheer was spread both ways.

"I don't have any children of my own, so it's a really cool experience to see the kids' faces light up," said Joey Brancato, a running back.

Dennis Turner, a lineman, said the experience made him thankful for the health of his family, which includes some siblings the same ages as the children to whom he was handing out gifts.

"To me, it means a new sense of joy," he said. "Kids are everything."

Santa, too, was overwhelmed. After visiting an infant in an isolation room, Santa emerged with tears.

Before the infant, Santa visited Xavier Valenzuela, 6, who was recovering from an appendectomy. Santa told him that next year he would come down the chimney at his home.

"I don't have a chimney," Xavier told Santa. Santa reassured him that he would be able to get in the house to deliver presents.

Brenda Valenzuela, Xavier's mom, said Santa's visit meant a lot to them. It got Xavier to believe in Santa again after his brothers told him Santa didn't exist, she said.

"Mom, I got an iPod!" Xavier exclaimed after Santa's visit.

For Madeleine, the 4-year-old who hugged Santa, the visit turned her into a Sharks a fan. When Santa handed Madeleine the cheerleader doll, he asked her if she could say "Go Sharks."

Madeleine, who was in the hospital for an appendectomy, replied enthusiastically, "Go Sharks!"

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