GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- It was a special night for kids who have been spending time at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital. On Wednesday they got to get out and visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum for a holiday party.
The event has grown bigger and bigger in its 26 years. It was originally in an auditorium at the hospital, but has since moved to the public museum. Almost 800 kids and their families took over the museum on Wednesday, giving them a nice break from treatment and instead replacing it with some Christmas cheer.
"It's kind of our Christmas gift back to the children and their families that we know are on a very difficult journey," said Dr. Jim Fahner, division chief of pediatric oncology at the hospital. "They've been through a lot of hospital stays, a lot of clinic visits, and a lot of difficult therapies. So much of their normal childhood is taken away from them and Christmas should not be one of those things."
Dr. Fahner has been there since the beginning and sees families coming back year after year.
"We rapidly outgrew the hospital auditorium because our program was growing quickly," said Fahner. "More kids and families wanted to be a part of it so it's grown into the big success that it is."
Some families come back even after treatment ends, like Joe Burmania, who beat cancer 20 years ago.
"I did 3 years of chemotherapy there and the people there is one of the main reasons why I come back to see the child life specialists, the doctors and the nurses that treated me while I was there," said Burmania.
Burmania knows first hand the difference the event can make.
"It brought a sense of togetherness and family during this time when you lean on your family and your beliefs if you have them and just the Christmas spirit," said Burmania.
Burmania reunited with some of his former doctors on Wednesday and introduced them to his almost two-year-old son.
"I want the doctors to see what they've done for me," said Burmania. "The kids here still can have a productive life and be a strong individual and lead a great life."
Doctors and nurses also perform a special show for the kids each year. The shows have a different theme every year, but all of them center around Christmas. The doctors and nurses dress up in costumes and sing and dance for the kids. It's about doctors and nurses getting on the kids' level and seeing them in a different light.
"It's special because a lot of people don't get to do stuff like this, especially when their kids have cancer and other illnesses," said Amanda Maiville, whose three kids visit doctors in the hematology unit. "This just brings everybody together."
Most of the kids who attend are patients in the oncology or hematology units at the hospital.