Having a child in the hospital any time of year can be stressful, especially during the holidays. The NICU a McLane Children's Hospital has help from a special Santa to capture memories before they fade.
Old Saint Nick has a way of finding helpers all across the country. Robert King is one of them.
"It's a tough time for them. Their babies are in the hospital," said King.
This time of year, King is known as the NICU Santa at McLane Children's Hospital. However, King is no stranger to the halls of the neonatal unit.
"I think God gives you a calling," King said. "And I didn't want to be a NICU nurse. But he placed me in that position. And I learned to love it. I still love it."
King retired from the McLane NICU after working there for 38 years, spending nearly half a century as a nurse.
"I feel like I can give back this little bit each year, just to help make somebody's Christmas a little happier," King said.
NICU parents like Allyson Krone explain Kings prior experience in the unit help tremendously when working with the babies.
"Just knowing that he's comfortable with all the wires with all the alarms that does not faze him, he is just there to be the happy Santa's in the unit," Krone said.
Krone is a NICU nurse too, and was able to see her babies: Charlotte, Henry, and Olivia get their first Christmas picture with Santa.
"Five to 10 years from now being able to pull out the pictures of the babies," Krone said. "Just a couple of weeks old getting to visit Santa is so special and will really mean a lot to us."
King said he will keep dressing up as Santa and spreading the holiday cheer as long as he physically can.
"I'll tell you what, I get a blessing from it," King said. "I hope that it's a blessing to them."
Krone said she is forever grateful for the life long memories King helped her create.
"Every year he comes without fear and is so diligent and taking pictures with all of the babies and making those sweet, special memories. It's just so special," said Krone. "Having some of the normal things that you'd be able to do with your children outside of the NICU is really special."
King said preparing to step into his role as Santa takes months. He starts growing his beard out in June, to get the full Santa effect come December. His wife often tags along as Mrs. Claus, but could not come this year due to COVID precautions.