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Santa Claus MD

Christmas morning arrives for three children and their parents. There are grins, squeals, and discarded ribbons and torn wrapping paper as each child, ages 2, 7 and 8, opens gift after gift, momentarily stopping to admire each new toy. As promised, Santa Claus delivered dozens of presents since the children were nice and not naughty this year.

Except it’s not December 25. It’s already January. And the family isn’t gathered around a brightly lit, ornament-filled Christmas tree. Instead, they are in the lobby of Novant Health Lakeside Primary Care in Locust, being cheered on by Ricardo Vargas, MD, and his staff. And it’s hard to tell who is more excited – the children or the employees.

A few days after Christmas, the family woke up sniffling and sneezing, so they made an appointment to see Dr. Vargas. As he had done with all of his other patients, Dr. Vargas asked the three children what Santa Claus brought them this year.

The eldest child’s eyes saddened as he explained, “Santa had the wrong address to our house this year. But he’ll come next year.” He spoke with the maturity of an adult, and he wasn’t bitter or angry. He was just disappointed – and optimistic for next year.

His explanation surprised Dr. Vargas, as he had never heard of Santa getting lost. He looked at the mother, who sheepishly stared at the ceiling with tears in her eyes, but he didn’t push the issue or ask for clarification. Instead, Dr. Vargas pulled the mother aside after the appointment to make sure he understood correctly. Recognizing that not everyone celebrates Christmas or believes in Santa, he was prepared to apologize for making a religious assumption.

But the mother confirmed that she had indeed told that story to her young children. Her husband lost his job, and the couple fell behind in rent and bills.

They barely had enough money to put food on the table each night. So the children woke to nothing on Christmas morning – not a single gift. But as distraught as she was, the mother didn’t want to destroy her kids’ magical world of Santa and the North Pole.

Dr. Vargas casually mentioned to the clinic staff his plan to adopt another family for Christmas, even though the holiday had passed. He didn’t ask for help, yet the Novant Health Lakeside Primary Care team immediately volunteered their own time and money to make this a Christmas the family would never forget.

Dr. Vargas’ office and the other Novant Health Lakeside Primary Care practices gathered enough presents to fill a large sport utility vehicle. He called the mom to share the good news.

“But it’s not from us,” he told her. “It’s from Santa.”

The mom told her children that they had another doctor’s appointment and loaded them into the car. When they arrived at Novant Health Lakeside Primary Care, Dr. Vargas gathered the children close and told them that Santa realized his mistake and was very apologetic. He didn’t want them to wait until next year for presents they deserved now.

“Their eyes lit up, and they were oozing excitement as they realized what was happening,” Dr. Vargas said. “It was an electric atmosphere. Everyone was screaming, jumping up and down – there’s no other way to describe it besides pure and utter joy.”

And Santa didn’t forget about the parents. They received clothing and gift cards for groceries and household items to help ease their burden.

“I have never been hugged more in my life than I was on that day,” Dr. Vargas said. “I’m not sure who was more elated – the family or my staff and me. This is what Christmas is all about.”