Sick kids fly high with Santa over Vancouver sky

20:44, December 23, 2010      

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Santa Claus flew into Vancouver Wednesday morning, not on his familiar sleigh, but rather via corporate jet, to visit a very special group of children living with serious medical ailments.

With the weather cold and wet in western Canada's largest city and the only snow visible sitting atop distant mountains, the Telus-sponsored event saw the telecom giant donating the use of its Cessna jet for the morning so that the young participants could fly high with Santa.

Now in its eighth year in Vancouver, the 10 participants in the sightseeing event with Santa were all patients of the British Columbia Children's Hospital. Each year, the facility attends to nearly 80,000 children from around the province, providing about 178,000 patient visits.

Kevin Salvadori, Telus' executive vice president of business transformation and technology operations, said the flights started out as an idea to give kids who maybe needed a little boost at Christmas, and their families, a special treat during the holiday season.

Today, the idea has spread into a nationwide initiative with the flights being offered in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria, as well as Vancouver.

"This event is all about the children. During this time of year we have children here who all have life-threatening illnesses and it's a chance for them to come out, play with Santa, take a ride on our plane and just get back to having fun and being kids," he said.

Since 2001, Salvadori said Telus had donated more than 185 million Canadian dollars in its philanthropy work to various charitable and not-for-profit groups across the country. Company employees had also worked about 3.5 million volunteer hours to "give where we live."

He added more cities would likely be added to the Santa flights in future because of the positive reception.

"For us, it's not really about fanfare or publicity. It's really about giving back in our communities in a small meaningful way to individuals like we are here today. This is about a small group of kids and making sure that they have some fun today."

Among those flying with Santa were Jitesh Rana and his son Hans Gabriel. The three-year-old boy was born with a congenital heart disease that has already required three major surgeries in his young life. One more surgery is scheduled for next year and it is hoped he will be fine until he is an adult.

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