Hopkins' Letter to Santa


My children will be at home on Christmas morning. They're growing up, but they still bound down the stairs and exclaim about the presents spread under the tree. Christmas carols play. Lights glow. We all eat breakfast in the dining room. Then we sit in front of the fire and open our stockings together.

My children have always been home with us on Christmas morning. They've been happy and healthy. We count our blessings.

Some children won't be home. They'll spend the holidays in the )) hospital. This year over a hundred of them will wake up Christmas morning in the Johns Hopkins Children Center.

The center's Christmas tree already stands in the playroom. Its electric lights and shiny bulbs look cheery. Holly and red ribbons line the halls. The staff has made elaborate preparations for Christmas morning. There will be presents. Some of the parents will even arrive on Christmas Eve to spend the night with their children in the hospital. In the morning, they'll open their stockings together.

Of course, some of the children worry.

Santa Claus won't know where they are. They won't be at home. How will he find them? The nurses reassure them. Of course Santa knows where they are. Every year the hospital sends him a list.

If only it could.

The Johns Hopkins Children Center is the largest pediatric complete-care facility in Maryland. It provides world-class excellence in pediatric cardiology, oncology, ambulatory care, pediatric surgery, endocrinology and the treatment of pulmonary, genetic and infectious diseases.

This year the center treated 7,000 in-patient children and handled 90,000 out-patient visits. Another 30,000 children came to the center's pediatric emergency room. Thirty-nine percent of the in-patients and 80 percent of the pediatric emergency-room admissions live in the surrounding East Baltimore neighborhoods.

It's an emotionally wrenching place to visit. You see children with cancer. Tiny premature babies, some of them no bigger than your hand. Little girls and boys smashed in automobile wrecks or hit by trucks. Gunshot victims. Hopkins is an urban hospital. A major killer of patients 18 months and younger is bullet wounds.

The center is financially strapped. No child is ever turned away, but many of their families cannot pay. Free care will cost the center $8 million this year.

Across-the-board hospital operating-budget cuts have cost another $6 million. The capital budget has been slashed.

The center needs equipment and supplies. It needs toys, games, educational materials, computers, and audio-visual equipment for the children's playrooms. It needs expensive medical equipment -- from rolling stretchers and cribs to portable high-tech monitors and suction machines.

If the center could really send a list to Santa Claus, the staff would add a plea for help. They'd ask for money for playroom equipment:

$25 -- for an infant or toddler talking toy.

$25 -- for a tape player so that children can play their parents' recordings of bedtime stories.

$25 -- for a set of blank cassettes for copying appropriate children's television shows.$36 -- for packs of Polaroid 600 film so children can send home pictures of themselves.

$50 -- for a set of VCR children's movies.

$50 -- for Nintendo tapes.

$75 -- for a computer game for the playroom's Apple LCII's.

$75 -- for one large therapeutic ball.

$100 -- for a set of Legos.

$120 -- for a "My First Song" electronic sketch pad.

$125 -- for a party with food and entertainment.

$150 -- for beads and jewelry-making supplies.

$150 -- for a Casio musical piano keyboard.

$190 -- for a set of five dolls from different cultures.

$250 -- for a cart for the playroom computer.

$300 -- for a roll-away ping pong table.

$300 -- for an electric typewriter for children to do schoolwork.

They'd also ask for money for medical equipment:

$670 -- for an additional portable suction machine (the center now has only one).

$1,000 -- for one pedi-crib designed for small children (25 are needed).

$2,200 -- for one rolling multi-positional pediatric emergency-room stretcher (nine are needed).

$5,000 -- for a portable monitor.

$30,000 -- for a high-frequency oscillatory ventilator for infants who do not respond to conventional equipment.

The Johns Hopkins Children Center is only one of many wonderful medical institutions and charitable organizations which will be doing all they can for unfortunate children this Christmas. They are all underfunded. They all need help. They all have wish lists.

Pick one of them and play Santa this Christmas. If you choose the Children's Center, send your tax-deductible check to the Johns Hopkins Children Center, 1620 McElderry Street, Read Hall 204W, Baltimore, Maryland 21205-1995. (telephone 410-955-87670).

May you and your children -- all of them -- have a Happy Holiday.

Tim Baker's column appears on alternate Mondays.

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