Santa visits tiniest hospital patients

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SAN DIEGO – A holiday tradition at UCSD Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit allowed Santa Claus to visit the hospital’s youngest patients and their families.

Santa has been bringing joy to the infant care unit for 18 years.

“It’sScreen Shot 2013-12-11 at 6.56.54 PM nice to have the holiday atmosphere while we’re at the hospital,” said Kim Itschner, a new mother of 2-week-old twins Tanner and Katelynn who were due in January.

It was an emotional time for many of the parents and nurses.

“It just kind of normalizes the holiday for them, since they’re probably going to be in the hospital through the holidays,” said Jan Hebert, nurse manager at UCSD’s NICU.

Hospital officials said on average premature babies leave the hospital after three weeks in the NICU.

“I think back to when I started doing this kind of nursing – half of the 3 pound babies died and now we send home babies that are less than a pound,” said Hebert.

UCSC Medical Center is considered to have a good record of premature babies making it home.