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'Santa Cops' deliver North Pole magic to Children's Hospital

11:17 PM, Dec 1, 2012   |    comments
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When you're a kid stuck in a hospital bed, it feels like everybody else is outside having fun without you.

Or at least that's how 12-year-old Bethany Houser says she sometimes feels.

She's spent the past week at East Tennessee Children's Hospital receiving treatment for Crohn's Disease and Ostepenia, a disorder that leaves her bones brittle.

"I have stomach issues and stuff, but it doesn't stop you from being you. It just stops you from doing some things," Bethany said.

On Saturday afternoon, the 134th Air Refueling Wing Security Squadron brought all the joy of the North Pole to around 50 Children's Hospital rooms.

"It's that moment when you go in there and they forget for a second that they're here or that they're sick of whatever brought them here," says Master Sergeant Joe Hungate, also known as Chief Elf for the day. "They're just a kid at Christmas. We take so much more away from this than we could ever give."

Since the Santa Cops program started in 1999, they've raised more than $90,000 in donations and toys to support the hospital's children.

They donated about $9,000 in gifts on Saturday.

Room after room filled up with a squad of elves, Santa, and even a Spongebob Squarepants.

Initially wide eyed and shocked, when the presents come out of the bag the children's hesitation turns to smiles.

To say Bethany is thrilled with her assortment of nail polish and make up gifts would be a dramatic understatement.

30 minutes after Santa moved on she's still gushing over her good fortune.


"I want to say thank you to everyone who gave me, oh my gosh, who took the time to actually think about me. It's so cool," said Bethany. "I can't stop smiling."


Her mom, Amanda, knows the kind of memories these special events create.

This time last year, her oldest daughter Emily got a visit from the 134th.

Emily was diagnosed in 2007 with a brain tumor. She passed away in 2011, four days after her visit from the 134th's Santa Claus.

"Without East Tennessee Children's Hospital, Emily wouldn't have had the Christmas she had. And neither would any of my family," Amanda said.


"These men and women who brought these. Not only do they serve our country. They went 10,000 extra steps to serve my children."


Bethany can't wait to share her new stuff with little sister Grace at home this Christmas.

"Grace is going to be so excited. We're going to have so much fun," says Bethany, her hands clasped to her cheeks in excitement.

The Housers hope to take Bethany home on Monday.

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