Santa Visits The NICU

Mayo Clinic doctor becomes Santa to premature babies who can't visit the jolly old elf outside of the hospital.

(NBC News) ROCHESTER, Minn. – A faux-bearded Santa strokes the forehead of a prematurely born baby in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital.

He sweetly whispers, “Hi little Opal, hi baby.”

The beard may be fake, but beneath it beats the heart of real cardiologist.

“The best day of the year,” Dr. Jonathan Johnson says.

For the past 14 years the pediatric cardiologist has been shedding his doctor clothes for an afternoon at Christmastime dressed in red and white, visiting the babies in a unit where not just any Santa will do.

“We’ve had a long journey with Doctor Johnson, so it’s pretty special he’s here,” says Heather Walker, whose month-old daughter Emily sits in her doctor’s lap attached to breathing and feeding tubes.

Johnson has taken on this role since he was flagged as a resident for having the right body type to fill a Santa suit.

“They wanted me in the intensive care unit with the babies because there’s wires and things that some other Santas weren’t comfortable with,” Johnson says. “I understood where all the wires and tubes were going.”

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