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Santa visits St. Joseph NICU

Santa NICU

St. Joseph had a visit from St. Nick this week.

Christmas bells jingling as he walked, Stan Russell, the spitting image of Santa Claus, visited infants at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Thursday.

The babies — which Stan calls “little miracles” — are some of the most vulnerable patients Via Christi serves.

A chance to share hope in the face of vulnerability is what made Stan start wearing the Santa suit and visiting hospitals, something he’s done for over 20 years.

In 1995, Stan’s wife, Ernestine, spent five months in the intensive care unit at what is now Ascension Via Christi St. Francis. She was suffering from Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Three times medical professionals thought she was close to death. At one point, she weighed only 72 pounds.

But with a combination of prayer and perseverance, Ernestine’s health began to improve. She was eventually discharged to what is now Ascension Via Christi Rehabilitation Hospital, and soon after was back home.

During the journey, Stan said, “Via Christi became our family.”

“It made me develop a spot in my heart to visit hospitals and give back,” Stan says. “Doing this is a chance for me to share the hope I needed back then.”

Stan’s big smile and twinkling eyes greeted about a dozen babies Thursday. Each of them donned a tiny Santa hat, the perfect size for their tiny heads. Some of them opened their eyes and smiled back at Stan, tugging at his bushy white beard. Some slept while he gently held them. 

“I hope I gave these families a memory to look back on and smile about,” Stan says. “I hope I gave them a chance to share Christmas, and a little bit of joy, with their baby.”