Fifty smiling children were greeted by Santa Claus Tuesday, as they climbed out of three stretch limousines in front of the Evans Target for the annual Shop with a Doc event.
Each year, the children being treated at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital are treated to a $150 gift card to shop for anything they want. And for the kids, it's a time for much-needed normalcy, according to the center's pediatric care Dr. Rich Cartie.
"It's kind of a nice time to really see how they have done in the outside world in their normal environment. This is normal. The hospital is not normal. So it's nice to see that," said Cartie, who has treated some of the patients there for years in his decade of service at the center.
For 5-year-old Lawson Lewis, who has been a patient at the center for more than a year, the event was just that, a chance to get back to normal.
According to Lawson's father, BJ, his son's last Christmas was spent recovering.
"He was still in the middle of a lot of his in-depth surgeries - so this is the first year that we've gotten to come down and enjoy it. It's a really nice experience, though," BJ Lewis said. "It's amazing to see a lot of these familiar faces and the doctors that have worked on Lawson with his surgeries and be able to enjoy this festive environment. It's really nice."
Lawson, BJ and Jennifer Lewis were flown to the event from their home in Florence, Ga., by Angel Flight Soars, a volunteer pilot service that works with the burn center to bring the children and their families to participate in the event. Not just the children enjoy the event each year. For Dr. Zaheed Hassan, the smiles on the children's faces is what he says warms his heart.
"You'll see their face when they come in," Hassan said. "They come in a limo and when you see their faces, they are lit up and our hearts are lit up too and we become really, really happy."
Hassan, along with Dr. Fred Mullins, the center's medical director and president, have enjoyed the event for the past 12 years.
"It's so much fun and it means so much to the kids. They've gone through a very bad time and it's just a way to give them something to look forward to, something good," Mullins said. "We have been doing this for a few years now, and basically what it is all the little kids that get burned, they become almost like a family, so we wanted to give back something to them. Christmas time is a happy time, it's family time."
The event is in partnership with the Southeastern Firefighters Burn Foundation, the mission of Shop with a Doc is to ensure that each young burn patient will have a holiday season that includes the things that every child wishes for during this time of year.
After shopping, the children and their families were treated to a Chick-Fil-A dinner.