JOPLIN — Santa Claus came a little early for nine babies in the Freeman NICU at Freeman West Hospital last Thursday.
"It is absolutely a joy to see these little ones. I am looking forward to seeing them next year, when they come to visit me and can sit on my lap," said Santa Claus. "It is just a thrill, they are so tiny and so precious and so sweet. It is a joy for me to be able to come and do this, especially for babies that are not going to be able to go home for Christmas. It is a blessing for me to come and do this for them."
One of the families who have a baby in the NICU is Johnny and HollyAnn Rea of Neosho. Their daughter, Addisyn Rea, has been in the NICU since Nov. 6. Addisyn was early – 13 weeks early to be exact – and weighed 2 pounds, 1.7 oz. and 13.5 inches long.
"She is doing good. She is at 3 pounds, 6.9 ounces and 16 inches long," Johnny said.
Asked of her emotions for having Santa come and see her daughter, HollyAnn said, "I feel very fortunate and blessed."
During Santa's visit, he had his picture taken with them, and brought a Teddy bear, blanket and a book.
"Each child got a first gift from Santa," he said. "I enjoyed visiting with the parents. They are not able to take their babies home for the holidays this year, so it's a joy for me to come to them and hopefully, bring a little bit of Christmas cheer to them at the hospital."
As far as when the Reas will take their daughter home, Johnny said, "I want her home by Christmas."