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Santa’s big-little helpers

by Meg Tilley / Edmonton Oilers

'Welcome to Toyland.'

That's the sign that could have hung above the Stollery Hospital doorway that led children and their families into a room full of toys.

From Nerf guns to Barbie's Deluxe Camper, Call of Duty to miniature hockey kits, a play-room, that is often used by families to escape the every day reality of the hospital atmosphere, was transformed by the Edmonton Oilers, Tuesday afternoon.

Video: COMMUNITY | Christmas Hospital Visit

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"It's so heart-warming to know that even though they have their own lives and they're big in the community and they're stars they still take time off and come visit us," said Elise Kwan, 19.

One-by-one, children of all ages filtered into the room, with a few of their family members in tow, to see the spread of gifts that awaited them, - thanks to the Oilers special shopping trip the day before - take pictures with the players, receive some specially signed items, and for some, just catch up.

"I've come here so many times that I'm starting to see people again and develop relationships and that's always a huge part of this," said Taylor Hall.

"It's one thing for fans to cheer us on during games but to see them face-to-face really puts a new perspective on it."

Kwan, once an in-patient at the Stollery, has attended the afternoon holiday gift giving tradition since 2013, a small event that the Oilers put together each year.

Diagnosed with a blood disorder when she was younger, Kwan explained that it has caused her to be anemic, which in turn created other complications.

"With all the transfusions I've had…I have an iron overload and that has caused severe damage to my heart and my pancreas causing Type One diabetes," she said.

In addition to that, Kwan said she has dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart's ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart's main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened.

 

"I'm on a ventricular system device, which is in my bag, it's an internal kind of pump that actually circulates [the blood] in my heart for me because my heart is too saturated and too weak to actually pulsate properly."

However, it hasn't dampened Kwan's spirit as she made her rounds saying hello to Oilers players Andrew Ference , Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Taylor Hall, Teddy Purcell, Matt Hendricks and Mark Letestu .

"They try to lift our spirits and that's something that I appreciate," she said.

Donning Santa hats and their orange jerseys, the Oilers divided and conquered to deliver handpicked items and visit with patients at hospitals in Edmonton.

"It's really nice to step away from hockey and come see the kids - most of them are pretty excited," said Nugent-Hopkins.

"You kind of get caught up in the game when you're just constantly playing. A lot of these kids are going through tough times and their whole families are too, so to be able to help out a little bit at a time like Christmas hopefully brightens their day a little bit."

A yearly tradition, the Edmonton team takes great pride in visiting with the patients at each hospital, especially during the holidays, to help spread some Christmas cheer and take part in the spirit of giving.

"For a lot of these families it's a tough season so if we can make their lives a little bit easier for five minutes it's nice," said Hall.

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