With so much going on around him, eight-year-old Nevan Coburn really wasn’t in the mood to chat with a reporter Wednesday afternoon at Vancouver International Airport — until his dad mentioned hockey.
That’s when Nevan finally gave up a smile while talking about his hero, former Vancouver Canuck hockey player Ryan Kesler.
Dad Derek Coburn said Kesler, who now plays with the Anaheim Ducks, has not only hosted the family at games in California, but also always makes a fuss over Nevan.
So it was no surprise to anyone that when Nevan was able to choose a wish through the Children’s Wish Foundation, the entire family attended the 2016 NHL All Star Game in Nashville where the young hockey fan met some of the players.
But, on this afternoon, Nevan and his little brother Hayden didn’t have hockey on their mind. Instead, they joined 100 other children, their parents, caregivers and siblings, on a 90-minute flight to the “North Pole” to find Santa.
This is the 13th year Air Transat has partnered with the Children’s Wish Foundation to grant the wishes of children living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses to fly in a plane in search of the Jolly Old Elf.
Nevan was diagnosed with a sacroccygeal germ cell tumour as a toddler, a cancer found primarily in infants and newborns. Nevan’s mom Deborah Coburn fought back tears as she offered her son’s prognosis.
“He’s cancer free,” she said, smiling.
Prior to the flight, the children, their families and caregivers gathered at the Air Transat check-in counter at YVR for a party that would make any child happy. Amplified Christmas carols helped set the scene, which included stations set up for everything from face painting, colouring and story time to cookies and milk, photographs and a magician. Transat flight attendants, who volunteered their day to help host the kids and their families on the Santa-themed adventure, added to the festive feeling with their Christmas-themed hats and flashing-light necklaces. Besides YVR, similar events took place in Montréal, Toronto and Paris.
Jennifer Petersen, the provincial director of the Children’s Wish Foundation B.C. and Yukon chapter, said the goal of the day is to bring joy to the children.
“Some of our families have never been on a plane, so we are going to get on a plane, we are going to sing Christmas carols and we are going to find Santa,” said Peterson.
And that’s exactly what happened at about 3 p.m. As everyone boarded the plane, some leaving their wheelchairs behind for the duration of flight, the excitement was palpable. Once on board with seatbelts on, Transat flight attendants asked passengers to stomp their feet, clap their hands and cheer as loud as they could to help the pilot get the plane off the ground. That request was met with a very enthusiastic, very loud and very happy response.
Once in the air, flight attendants told bad Christmas jokes, sang carols and handed out snacks as the children watched the animated Christmas movie Shrek the Halls. About 15 minutes into the flight, the pilot announced a Santa sighting and, not long after, the big guy himself appeared magically from the front of the plane.
As the children waited patiently — some literally squirming in their seats — Santa made his way down one aisle of the plane and up the other, handing out candy canes and stuffed toys. Santa took time with each child to shake their hands and speak with their parents.
Prior to the flight, Air Transat president Jean-Francois Lemay said the Flights in Search of Santa provide sick children, their families and caregivers, an opportunity to leave the hospital, doctors’ appointments and chronic care behind for at least one day.
“For Air Transat, this event has become a real tradition just before the holiday season,” said Lemay. “The Santa flight holds a special place in our employees’ hearts...”
Lemay also helped present a cheque to the Children's Wish Foundation from Air Transat for $116,000, which was raised from the carrier’s Small Change, Big Hearts program and other initiatives.
Through the small change program, Air Transat passengers are asked to donate any spare change they have at the end of a flight, no matter what the currency. Since 2004, Air Transat has donated more than $5.1 million to the foundation.
“When a child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the life of the entire family is affected,” said Chris Kotsopoulos, chief executive officer of Children's Wish Foundation.
“Today, we’re not just providing respite from hospital visits, we’re creating wonderful memories and holiday magic to cherish, that are unique to our wish families.”
Children’s Wish Foundation wishes
To qualify children must be:
Between the ages of three and 17
A legal Canadian resident and diagnosed with an illness deemed life threatening, including some serious genetic and neurological diagnoses.
How it works:
Popular wishes include travel, celebrity meetings or obtaining an item special to a child
Anyone can refer a child
There are no waiting lists
Each family is assigned their own wish coordinator
The foundation works with medical teams to support Wish children and their families as they decided which wish will bring the most joy
Upon approval, children have five years or until their 18th birthday to use their wish
In emergency situations, wishes can be fulfilled in a matter of days
Immediate family members are typically invited along for wishes involving travel
For more information, to read stories about children and their wishes, or to donate, visit childrenswish.ca.