Cancer Patients Take Flight to 'North Pole'

Filed under: In The News

Maria Jannotti watches her daughter Carla Jannotti pet Pete the Penguin at the North Pole tucked away at an Orlando International Airport maintenance hangar. Credit: Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel / MCT

Kids whose lives have been consumed with chemotherapy and hospitals got a break from the trauma of their illnesses and had a chance to visit a magical land of Christmas wishes and wonder recently, thanks to a Florida hospital and a national airline.

The Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disease at the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute and Continental Airlines took 70 pediatric cancer patients on a flight of fancy. The kids and their families boarded a plane at Orlando International Airport and taxied to a hanger filled with volunteer elves, dancing sugar-plum fairies and the true spirit of the holidays, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinel.The free event is in it's thirteenth year and includes music, Santa visits and sweet treats. Some of this year's festivities included an inflatable slide, cookie decorating and antics from Pete and Penny, a pair of penguins from SeaWorld Orlando. The flight crew from Continental says the party is a blessing not only to the kids and their families, but also to those who volunteer at the event.

"This is a gift to us, too," flight attendant Lisa Luis -- aka "Peppermint Shirley" -- tells the Sentinel. "To be part of something that brightens the day of these children and their families, to make them smile ... so many people take for granted good health."

Carla Jannotti, 11, is a former competitive gymnast who has been unable to walk since she had brain surgery in January 2009. Her mom, Maria Jannotti, wept as she watched her wheel-chair bound daughter enjoy the event.

The night before, Carla spent several hours working on a wish list for Santa, which included gift requests for her parents and older brothers. "She's amazing," her father, Phillip Jannotti, 52, told the Sentinel. "With all she's been through, she still thinks of others first."

Related: As Little Boy Loses Sight, He Asks to See USC Football as Final Wish, Personal Stories of Overcoming Pediatric Cancer

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