Technology brings Santa to his fans at Starship

[From The New Zealand Herald News]

Technology brings Santa to his fans at Starship

By Lincoln Tan
Wednesday Dec 16, 2009

Just hours after surgery, 6-year-old Tabitha Monk rushed to put on her Sunday best for a chat with Santa from his North Pole grotto.

“It’s really so cool to talk to Santa,” Tabitha said, and nodded in agreement when asked if this was an easier way to be asking Santa for presents.

“I’ve asked Santa for a laptop, printer, clothes and shoes, and also to get better.”

Tabitha, a Year 2 student at Buckland School, has pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas) and hasn’t been able to go out to see Santa.

But through a high-tech teleconference system, Starship has been able to bring Santa to the hospital to listen to the wish lists of Tabitha and other young patients.

Until tomorrow, children at Starship will be able to chat, sing and even “touch” Santa from a hospital meeting room – where a Cisco Telepresence system has been set up for this unique “in person” experience.

Santa appears to be sitting just across the room, and children are able to interact with him as they would in person.

Janine Monk, a business consultant from Pukekohe, says it has done wonders for her daughter.

“We were expecting a boring Christmas having to go in and out of hospital, but this has really made quite a big difference for Tabitha,” Mrs Monk said.

“The procedure she had was quite an invasive one, but she was all ready to go when told that she’ll be meeting Santa.

“Tabitha’s normally very chatty, but she was just lost for words when she came face to face with Santa.”

Starship’s marketing communications co-ordinator Cindy Carleton said about a dozen children will get to see Santa on a one-to-one basis each day, and nurses have reported a buzz of excitement in the wards since the meetings started on Tuesday.

Cisco regional manager Suzanne Hansen said the idea to have the system installed at Starship was decided following discussions on how to ensure sick children don’t miss out on the festive cheer.

“The hospital can be quite a gloomy place to be at this time of the year, and this is one way to ensure the kids don’t miss out on those special Christmas moments.”

The installation of the system was sponsored by Cisco and TelstraClear.

Santa takes his leave on Friday but the Telepresence system will continue to be used until December 23 to link the children with relatives in Christchurch and Wellington.

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