There’s only one thing the Porter family wants this Christmas.
“Just to go home,” said Jason Porter, who sat beside his son Monday morning on the sixth floor of Akron Children’s Hospital.
Every year around Christmas, the hospital discharges as many patients as possible for the holiday. On Monday, between 9 and 11 a.m., the hospital released about 15 of the 181 patients, who range from newborns to young adults.
But Josiah Porter, 10, wasn’t one of them. Instead, his father — a truck driver who picked up 3½ hours moonlighting the night before — will stay by his side on Christmas Day while his wife, Victoria, tends to their other four children.
After Josiah’s fever peaked at 104 degrees, the boy was diagnosed with MRSA, a potentially deadly staph infection. He was transferred from the Lodi Community Hospital to Akron Children’s on Dec. 18, during his last week of classes in the Cloverleaf district in Medina County.
“It’s been an emotional week,” Jason Porter said.
His mother attempts to explain her son’s ailment.
“The M stands for …” Victoria said as her voice trails off.
“Methicillin,” said Paul Buzzelli-Andes, a 23-year-old volunteer in the hallway.
A pointed hat with equally pointed ears adorned Buzzelli-Andes’ head. He worked as an elf, helping Santa deliver presents to about 167 children — something the hospital has done for decades.
For the past four years, Cuyahoga Falls policeman Greg Kenepp has put on the Santa suit and dispersed gifts to children who are forced to spend Christmas away from home.
With about 25 more patients than a typical December, the hospital bustled with the usual staff Monday, as well as 20 volunteers, including Santa and Mrs. Claus — aka Cynthia Duncan, the supervisor of hospital’s Reinberger Family Center.
Most volunteers are former patients.
Buzzelli-Andes was too young to remember when he made his first visit to the emergency room at Akron Children’s. A former football and basketball player, the Akron resident has also been there too many times to count.
“It’s like home,” he said, recalling the countless nurses and doctors who mended his broken bones and stitched his wounds.
That’s why he decided to volunteer four months ago.
“I’m just trying to give back,” he said.
Karen King, 54, is giving back, too. She was raised in a foster home in Akron and spent many weeks, even months, of her youth at Akron Children’s.
“I had a hard life growing up,” she said outside the hospital Monday morning, waiting for the helicopter, Air Bear, to deliver Santa.
“This hospital has been a blessing for me over the years,” said King, who started volunteering while attending Norton High School 39 years ago. She has worked with at least three different Santas in the past 29 years.
“I just love doing this because it does my heart good,” King said.
She strolled the hallways Monday morning behind Santa, pushing a cart filled with blankets, finger puppets, pillowcases and stuffed animals. Churches, local businesses and the community donated the items.
“Oh, my goodness … it is amazing,” Director of Volunteer Services Vicki Parisi said about the donations. “We’re so thankful to the community.”
Parisi manages about 1,400 volunteers who help the hospital each year.
Some, like 20-year-old Stephen Campbell — a medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University — started volunteering in high school and has never stopped. Others share a history of laying in one of the hospital’s beds, waiting in the emergency room or visiting a loved one, like Jason and Victoria Porter were doing Monday morning.
“The nurses and volunteers have been wonderful,” Jason Porter said.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Porters said they plan to give back to Akron Children’s next Christmas, like so many before them have done.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.