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'I like to think I brighten their day' | Santa visits Children's Healthcare of Atlanta rehab program

'When Santa comes, each of the kids take a turn sitting with Santa and he talks to them about the accomplishments they have made in therapy.'

ATLANTA — For more than two decades, one man has brought cheer to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta patients during the holidays. Currey Gayle brings the magic of Santa Claus to children in the Day Rehabilitation Program. 

Not only does he visit the patients, but he also works with the hospital staff to find out what's on the Christmas wish list for each child. The hospital staff said he's able to purchase the gifts by raising funds. 

“When Santa comes, each of the kids take a turn sitting with Santa and he talks to them about the accomplishments they have made in therapy," said Lainie Palefsky, Day Rehabilitation case manager. "Then he presents them with gifts they requested."

Being Santa is a part of his family's past. His grandfather would get switchboard operators to help him call children Christmas Eve. He then watched his father do the same.

When his dad came down with laryngitis one year, hospital officials said that's when Gayle stepped in. But when the opportunity came for Santa to visit patients at Children’s, Gayle knew this would be his new holiday tradition.

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Credit: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
5-year-old Camila was diagnosed with a brain tumor after a severe decline in function this summer and has undergone radiation. She was able to show off her improved walking skills and gave Santa the biggest smiles.

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The Day Rehabilitation Program allows patients with debilitating injuries or illnesses to come to a school-style environment five days a week. Instead of going to math or English class, they move throughout the day from occupational therapy, to physical therapy and more.

"We treat kids from 4 to 21 years of age, and it is magical even to the teens who have long stopped believing. Currey has such a way with the kids," Palefsky said.

The visit from Santa encourages the children to continue working hard through the obstacles they face.

“I like to think I brighten their day, but they make my Christmas," he said. 


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