Santa on roof of UNMH
By Nicole San Roman

Santa to Fly in to UNM Children’s Hospital

Naughty or Nice? There’s no question kids at The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital are all on the “good list!”  And this year Santa is making a special trip to see them!

On Dec. 15, Santa’s parking his reindeer at Atlantic Aviation and trading his sleigh for a helicopter ride with UNM’s Lifeguard Team to fly to UNM Children’s Hospital where he’ll deliver toys and take pictures with kids who will most likely spend their Christmas in the hospital. It’s an annual tradition that started in 2016.

We want every kid in the hospital to know that Santa is not going to forget about them.
Ana Bacon, Director of Child Life, UNM Children’s Hospital

Ana Bacon is the Director of Child Life at UNM Children’s Hospital. “We want every kid in the hospital to know that Santa is not going to forget about them,” she said. “Santa, his elves, and reindeer will make it happen so that all the children, including the ones in the hospital, will be visited.”

Bacon has worked at the hospital for 20 years now and says the look on children’s faces when Santa arrives, never gets old. 

“When the kids are in their rooms, it’s like the ultimate celebrity walks through the door,” Bacon said. “When they see Santa it’s so sweet and so genuine. It’s so heartwarming to know everybody puts this together for the kids and their families.” 

Santa’s Backstory

For the man in the red suit this year, referred to lovingly as “Santa Bill,” the visits to UNM Children’s Hospital are just as much a gift to him and his elves as it is to the kids he gets to meet. He’s been visiting children in Albuquerque for more than a decade now.

It all started after a trip to the grocery store for green chile just over 13 years ago.

“My beard had gotten a little long and shaggy. And I was just walking along and there was a lady pushing a cart with a little boy,” Santa said. 

As they passed by, the little boy said, “Hi Santa!”  The mother, who was clearly embarrassed, told the boy not to call him that. 

“I said, ‘No, that’s alright; it’s ok,’ and I thought ‘you know, my beard had turned white and if you looked at me the right way, I guess I kind of do look like Santa,’” he said.

It was later when he put on a red hat, that the magic happened.

Dang, I do look like Santa!  Well, what am I going to do with it? What can I do with this that would be helpful and be an opportunity to give back to the community?
Santa Bill, Visiting UNM Children’s Hospital

“I said, ‘Dang, I do look like Santa!  Well, what am I going to do with it? What can I do with this that would be helpful and be an opportunity to give back to the community?’”


That’s when Santa Bill decided to start calling up local hospitals in Albuquerque, offering to come visit both kids and adults during the holiday season. The rest is history. Santa’s first visit was a trip via motorcycle to UNM’s Carrie Tingley Hospital for Christmas in July 2011. He was later part of the first flights to UNM Children’s Hospital with UNM Lifeguard.

He says his primary goal is to visit the children who, because of their circumstances, may not otherwise get to visit with Santa and his elves.

 “I'm happy to do this, put on the red suit and I'm lucky enough to have a lot of friends, just people with huge hearts who have donated stuffed animals over the years and volunteered their time as elves.”


Those elves at UNM Children’s Hospital include teams from UNM Lifeguard, TriCore Reference Laboratories, the Goldwing Road Riders Association who continue to donate new stuffed animals, and the many volunteers at the hospital.

Santa also visits who he calls the “grown-up kids” at retirement communities, the VA Hospital and Albuquerque homeless center Joy Junction.

“The goal is to help them feel like somebody remembers them at Christmas time and bring them some cheer,” he said.

But he said it’s the visits to children in the hospital that affect him the most.

“It fills your heart, and it breaks it at the same time,” he said. “More times than I can count, I hear children say ‘I just want to get better. I just want to feel good again.’”

He says he’s met parents who are just trying to hold it together for their kids. “They'll sometimes just fall in your arms in tears because it's so much burden to have a loved one in the hospital.”


This year Santa hopes he and Mrs. Claus, and his elves will help make the children and their families at UNM Children’s Hospital feel a little bit better—bringing toys and hope.

“We know it’s not where a child wants to be during the holidays, but we can try to cheer them up and make their day and make them feel special. The kids are able to say, ‘Santa came to see me, and he brought his elves and I have pictures to prove it.’ Then we've really done something that's good for them.”

And it’s doing something good for Santa, too.

“I've been able to start believing in Santa again and I make sure that I do everything I can to make Santa real in the lives of everybody who I visit. The innocence that comes with a child who believes in Santa Claus and believes in the magic and the reason for Christmas is just a beautiful thing.”

One-on-One Santa Exclusive!

Categories: Children's Hospital, Community Engagement, Top Stories