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I did it for two years – last Christmas and the Christmas before that. It was a great experience. But it was difficult, too.

I expected kids to ask for toys, and some did. But a few said, "I want to go home," "I want to get better," "I want to be with my brother for Christmas," "Can you take this pain away from me?"

It put me in a difficult situation, you know, because what can I say?

I've been working here at Toronto's SickKids hospital for 10 years and I love my job. I have three kids at home and I always dressed as Santa for them when they were young, so you could say I have a little bit of experience. When I saw the hospital was looking for volunteers to be Santa, I sent an e-mail to say I was interested. They told me a few people were interested so they were doing informal interviews. I went in and said, "As long as you don't mind a Santa with a Spanish accent, I'll be happy to do this." For some reason they liked me and chose me. And I was so happy. It was like I was applying for a job. Of course, I wouldn't get paid, but the reward was the smiles on the kids' faces.

They have this beautiful Santa costume at SickKids, with the hat, bell, covers for the boots, a huge mustache – the whole thing. I'm a little bit chubby, but not as chubby as Santa, so I had to put padding on my belly to make it huge. It really fooled people – even some co-workers. When I called them by name, they wondered, "Who is this guy?"

The hospital organizers told me, "This is what we're going to do." They described the process. But how to respond to the kids' difficult requests? I had to come up with that on my own.

My response was to say, "Okay, I'm going to talk to the doctors. They're doing a good job. They're making sure you're getting your treatment. Hopefully, you're going to get to go home soon."

It was kind of frustrating to feel powerless. Sure, Santa has all this power. But in reality, I pray for them – that's all I can do. I pray the doctors have the knowledge and the skills to make them better and send them home. But at the end of the day, I know some of them have to stay here.

Everyone received a present from the hospital's Child Life department, which gets donations. Some kids weren't mobile, so I went to see them in their rooms. I even went to visit a few who really wanted to see Santa but were in isolation; it just took a little time to prepare because I had to put on gloves and a mask and stuff. I couldn't get very close to them – I had to stand a little bit in front of them – but at least they could see me and take a picture. And they got presents, too.

I also went to see the tiny babies in intensive care. For them, of course, it's mainly for the families. The mothers get ready by buying beautiful outfits for their babies' first picture with Santa. Most of these babies do well, but some don't. So by taking a picture, it's something for the families to have of their first Christmas – maybe their only Christmas together – and the mothers get very emotional. A couple of them were crying and hugging me, and it made me emotional, too, because I'm not used to seeing somebody like that.

My job at the hospital is to do diagnostic tests. When I look at a patient's heart, I show the images to a doctor, and the doctor gives the patient the good or the bad news. So I don't really see the reactions.

But when I saw these mothers crying, it made me feel like that, too. At least, I thought, I'm helping them out. If they made all this effort to buy nice outfits, it's because it's important to them. I have to support them. I have to be there. I have to smile for the pictures.

Carlos Barrios is a pediatric cardiac sonographerat the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

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