Santa Claus came early for babies fighting for their lives in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
“It’s our heart, it’s our passion,” Pamela Forrester, who dressed up as Mrs. Claus, said. “It’s something we love to do.”
She and her husband Jeff Forrester have made it a tradition to dress up and visit the hospital. Not only that, but they tell the Biblical story of Christmas.
“It’s also a ministry for us,” Pamela said. “Teaching the Biblical story of Christmas is one of the main reasons they do it.
During the rest of the year, Pamela works at Gainesville Academy as their director and Jeff works at the Lumpkin County Transfer Station.
But when Christmas comes around, they transform and offer their time up for people who need them most. It’s also a way for the couple to have a Christmas around children, since they have none of their own.
“People don’t usually think about these families,” Pamela said. “Their first Christmas with their babies are spent in a hospital.”
The families at the NICU tug on Pamela’s heartstrings every year.
“It gives them something to hope for,” Pamela said. “It’s absolutely an amazing feeling. It’s heartbreaking, but amazing.”
The couple is going on their fifth year now and plan to continue. This year they went on Dec. 18.
“In a time that is so incredibly overwhelming and stressful for new parents of babies in the NICU, something as simple as a visit from Santa can really work magic,” Kristin Grace, public relations and marketing specialist for NEGMC, said in an email.
Zella Renee Chambers, a respiratory therapist in the NICU, shared her side of the experience.
“Parents were super excited to be able to have their first family portrait and their baby’s first photo with Santa,” Chambers said in a press release.
She also said the NICU set out milk, hot chocolate and cookies for siblings and families to enjoy, as well as an ornament with the infant’s footprint to send home.
“This small gesture for our families brought tears of joy when the mothers saw the photos — memories they’ll be able to cherish forever,” Chambers said. “After weeks in the unit not knowing what even the next minute will hold, a visit with Santa can bring not only cheer, but a glimmer of hope.”
The day before they posed for photos and gave out gifts at the Hope Center at the Concord Baptist Church in Clermont.
“These are families that need assistance,” Pamela said.
The church hosts a Christmas event, which the Forresters have been involved with for a number of years. The kids get to have pancakes with Santa, the community donates presents which parents are able to shop through, and they have their pictures taken.
Jeff also dresses up for Tallulah Gorge and North Georgia Zoo, as well as others.