Christmas came early for the children at Sunderland Royal Hospital, although it wasn’t Santa Claus who arrived at the Paediatric Ward bearing gifts but other red and white visitors in the form of Sunderland AFC players Ross Stewart, Lynden Gooch, Danny Batth, Luke O’Nien and Corry Evans.
There’s never a good time to be in hospital, but it can be particularly difficult for children and their families in the run-up to Christmas.
SAFC fan Alex McNicoll, eight, was in hospital awaiting an operation to have teeth removed and had put meeting Ross Stewart on his Christmas wish list.
His face lit up when the SAFC forward arrived on the ward.
He said: “My favourite player is Ross Stewart and so I was shocked when I saw him walk across to my bed. It was a big surprise. He asked what I wanted for Christmas and what game I was playing.”
Mum Kirsty McNicoll, 42, added: “When Alex came into hospital this morning he was really nervous about the operation but meeting Ross and the players has really taken his mind of things. When he found out the players were coming in that’s all he has talked about.”
The visit also provided a “big boost” for 11-year-old Rhys Carr who was recovering from his operation.
He said: “It was brilliant to see the players and get the presents.”
Mum Laura Bell, 36, from High Barnes, added: “Seeing the players has really made his day.”
It was a sentiment shared by Shelly Turnbull from Ryhope whose four-year-old son Charlie Gibson was awaiting an operation.
She said: “Seeing the players gave Charlie a real boost and he can’t wait to go to the Luton game.”
For Luke O’Nien, visiting the hospital had a some personal significance.
He said: “Seeing the children who’ve been through quite a bit and being able to put a smile on their faces is what Christmas is all about. My daughter was born not too far from here and so it’s really special to come to back to where my little girl was born.”
Lynden Gooch added: “Some of the kids in here are not feeling too great, so it’s good to come in and put a smile on their faces. I’ve got two young kids and so I can appreciate what it must be like.”
As well as delivering presents, the players took time to sign autographs, pose for photographs and dish out high fives.
SAFC captain Corry Evans said: “I’ve got kids and I know nobody wants to be in hospital around Christmas. It’s nice to come in and try and put a smile on the kids’ faces.”
Centre back Danny Batth added: “It’s always great to get out into the community, especially at Christmas and with these kids in hospital. If we can make them smile then it’s a pleasure to do so.”
Due to Covid it was the first players visit since 2019.
Directorate manager of Paediatrics, Michelle Cockburn, said: “Most of the children are SAFC fans and it’s fantastic for them to meet their heroes and something they will remember forever.”
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