Just letting kids be kids.
That’s the impetus that drives the annual Flight with Santa, which sees children living with life-threatening illnesses or serious genetic and neurological conditions board an Air Transat flight for a trip to the “North Pole” in search of the Jolly Old Elf.
Stephen Hansen-Langmann, dad to six-year-old Lausanne and three-year old Kaiden, explained Lausanne had a liver transplant as a baby. It was mom Sue Kyoung Choi who donated part of her liver to Lausanne. The family got involved with the Children’s Wish Foundation last year.
“Lausanne was born with a very rare disease named biliary atresia so she had a liver transplant at 18 months,” said Hansen-Langmann. “Those first 18 months, I hate to say it, but it was, ‘Is she going to live?’ And now she’s four-and-a-half years post-transplant.”
Hansen-Langmann said the follow-up appointments are also gruelling. Because the medication Lausanne must take is so hard on the kidneys, they have to be monitored by way of glomerular filtration rate tests at the hospital once a year. Lausanne also endures monthly blood tests at the hospital, and four times a year she meets with her clinical doctor and team.
Choi said the couple is grateful to Air Transat and the Children’s Wish Foundation for giving them the opportunity to have the Flight with Santa experience as a family.
“When we were in the hospital, we never thought about anything outside the hospital,” said Choi. “But, now we’re here.”
“When we see her today, and she’s playing around other kids,” said Hansen-Langmann, “we talk about it with other parents and they say, ‘Oh, she looks so normal.’ And we say, she is normal.”
This is the 15th year Air Transat has partnered with the foundation to offer the Flight with Santa Claus and on the same day of the Vancouver flight, similar trips also took off from Toronto, Montreal and Paris.
Prior to the flight excited children, siblings, parents and caregivers had their faces painted, chose treats from the cookie bar, had a holiday photo taken, read books, coloured, had visits from service dogs dressed in their holiday best, and came face-to-face with princesses and popular characters from their favourite movies.
Little girls and boys were wide-eyed as they met with Elsa from Frozen and Moana, from Moana, as well as a living gingerbread man and woman.
The flight is paid for from Air Transat’s Small Change, Big Hearts program, which asks travellers on their flights to donate any spare change they have. Thanks to the program, this year Air Transat was able to donate $100,000 to the Children’s Wish Foundation. To date, Air Transat has donated $6 million to the foundation since the partnership started — Make-A-Wish Canada joined forces with the Children’s Wish Foundation in October 2019.
Also on the flight was 14-year-old Jacob Bredenhof from Abbotsford. Jacob was a talented basketball player when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his femur at age 13.
The cancer of the bone spread into a 23-centimetre-long tumor at the bottom of his left femur and in October 2018, surgeons removed his upper leg and knee, leaving just eight-centimetres of his femur, and reattaching his ankle joint and foot to the remaining bone.
The teenager didn’t let walking with a cane slow him down and he was obviously having a great time during the pre-party and flight, joking with Santa and his family.
Simon Rochette, manager of in-flight experience with Air Transat, said flight attendants and crew members also donate their time each year for the flight.
“But, so many of them volunteer we have to go by seniority,” said Rochette. “That’s how popular this day is.”
Chris Kotsopoulos, co-CEO at Make-A-Wish Canada, describes the annual Flight with Santa Claus as a “magical day that brings incredible joy to children diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.”
“It allows children and their families to create special holiday memories to cherish for years to come.”
Meanwhile, Jill Slattery, a communications specialist with Children’s Wish Foundation, said so many families applied for the flight this year, to make it fair the foundation held a lottery.
“And these are the lucky ones here,” said Slattery. “These kids spend so much time in hospitals, we just want them to be kids again for a day.”