Many of us have fond memories of spending Christmas morning with our children and seeing the excitement in their eyes as they take in the vision of the tree and all the presents beneath. But for parents of seriously ill children, the holidays can be filled with anxiety and worry about the health of their child.
For the second year in a row, the folks at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (SLCH) are working to bring some of that magic back with the Children’s Holiday Festival, a wonderland of festive, one-of-a-kind trees auctioned off to benefit the hospital and the families it serves. The idea was conceived by Lisa Boyce, who co-chairs the event with her husband, Greg, and Bob and Kim Brinkmann. “My husband and I have lived in communities that had similar events benefiting the local hospital,” Boyce says. “When we moved here in 2003, I mentioned the idea to a few people, and they all agreed that St. Louis would be a great community for this type of event.”
Boyce says she hopes to build on the sense of community and connection established during last year’s maiden festival, which raised $500,000 for the hospital. Peabody Energy returns as the event’s presenting sponsor, and this year’s festival will feature something unique, according to Boyce. “Since energy is a focus—with all the lights, etc.—we’ll have a ‘circle of energy’ supporting children’s health, with additional sponsors including Arch Coal, Ameren, Laclede Gas, Conoco Phillips, Armstrong Coal and an anonymous donor.”
The event, taking place Dec. 4 through 6 with a preview and auction party Dec. 2, is held at the Saint Louis Science Center. The approximately 80 elaborately decorated holiday trees on display are either offered up for sponsorship or auctioned off, explains Wende Conwell, SLCH’s special events manager. For example, ‘honorary patient trees’ can be sponsored for $2,000. “Each sponsor is partnered with a patient, and the sponsor decorates the tree with the patient in mind,” she says. “The families get to take the tree home after the event.” The honorary trees are unveiled during a Saturday morning breakfast attended by the sponsors and patients and their families. “It’s pretty magical when the kids walk in for the first time,” she says. “Last year, we had Curious George, Hannah Montana and country music trees. Many of the trees also had presents underneath them.”
In addition, more than two dozen trees are designated ‘designer trees,’ available for local designers to decorate with a theme of their choice. “Our designer participants donate their time and all decorations,” Conwell notes. There are also trees available for sponsorship levels between $5,000 and $25,000, as well as raffle trees trimmed with Swarovski crystals, gift cards, memorabilia and souvenirs from the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues. Most of the trees will be available via silent or live auction.
Money raised during the Children’s Holiday Festival supports initiatives such as SLCH’s family care fund, which helps families pay for transportation and any other expenses incurred during hospitalization.
The family of 5-year-old Isaac Noel understands firsthand how important that fund is. Eighteen hours after he was born, Isaac was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and aortic stenosis. “By all statistics, he wasn’t supposed to make it,” recalls mom Yvonne Noel. “Isaac had shown great signs of failure within hours of birth, and when he was transferred to Children’s, I was told he was one of the sickest children they’ve ever received at arrival.”
Under the caring hands of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Charles Huddleston, nurses and staff, Isaac underwent his first open heart surgery at 5 days old. “For him to even make it to surgery was an amazing miracle—but he did,” Noel says. Since then, Isaac has undergone a total of five successful open heart surgeries. “It’ll be a challenge all his life, but his life is a gift to us,” she says. “He’s been doing amazingly well. He loves everything: playing basketball, kickball, riding bikes and reading. He’s able to do everything else that a 5-year-old would want to do.”
Noel says her family will forever be grateful for Children’s Hospital’s role in Isaac’s recovery. “As parents, we have been challenged by Isaac’s serious needs,” she says. “It has taken us to a place of deep need where God has placed Children’s Hospital in our lives. We are extremely thankful for the medical team, facilities, and the generosity and compassion of the hospital’s donors.”
Last year, the Noels were the recipient of an honorary tree, courtesy of the Meintjes and Schuller families, who sponsored it. “The theme of the tree was ‘Isaac’s Joy,’ and it was decorated with all types of balls and sports equipment. They did such a beautiful job—we still have it up,” Noel says. “Just thinking about it brings all the emotions back. It was such a great moment of celebration and victory for our family.”