Two Christmases ago, young Kaia Rose Sooknanan-Andrew was rushed to the emergency room, feverish and blistered. As she lay in her hospital bed, scared and sad over missing Christmas morning, a nurse brought her two presents. Through it all, Christmas had come.
“She couldn’t believe it,” Kaia’s mother, Dana Sooknanan, said Friday. “She said, ‘I didn’t think there’d be Christmas in the hospital.’ ”
Kaia, of Dorchester, was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, and she returned to Tufts Medical Center time and again over the next year, often for days at a time, for treatment and transfusions. But she never forgot that first night, and what those gifts — a picture frame and a winter coat in her favorite color, purple — meant to her.
As children often do, Kaia came up with a simple but powerful idea: hold a toy drive and bring toys for all the patients in the pediatric clinic at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
So on Friday, on her seventh birthday, Kaia and her mother brought in several carts piled high with presents from her toy collection efforts. There were too many to count, she said.
“Infinity,” she said, with a one-tooth-missing smile. “Infinity presents.”
Kaia, a funny firecracker of a child who is quick with a smile and a hug, has gotten better in recent months and spends much less time at the hospital. But she and her mother said they remember how hard it can be, especially around the holidays, and how a surprise present can make things right, at least for a time.
Bounding through the clinic in a “Angel with Attitude” T-shirt and a bracelet with jingle bells, Kaia and a team of helpers she dubbed elves filled a large toy chest, piled presents under the tree, and passed out gifts. The children, both the patients and their siblings, were thrilled. Christmas had come early.
When Kaia handed Nora Griffin, a 3-year-old whose older brother is a patient, a large box that was almost her size, Nora jumped with excitement. Wrapping paper went flying, and a baby doll emerged.
“Look! I have a baby,” she said, looking wide-eyed at her mom. “I can’t believe this! Thank you!”
Her brother, 6-year-old Jack, took his gift more in stride. It was the game Battleship, a fancy, electronic version. But if he did not jump up and down, he did not take his eyes off it, either.
Nearby, Kaia watched with a smile, then rushed off to unload more. Another big cart had arrived, a cornucopia of coloring books and crayons, race cars and puzzles. She and her twin brother Keston unloaded them into the toy chest, pausing to admire ones that caught their eye.
Asked why she wanted to collect so many toys, Kaia said the answer was simple.
“I wanted to give my friends something for Christmas,” she said.
People had been very generous, she agreed. People like giving toys to kids, it seemed.
Sooknanan said Kaia came up with the idea last year when they were remembering that Christmas in the hospital, and they started spreading the word to family and friends. This year, they got help from the City Council office in Boston, where Sooknanan’s friend worked.
John Connolly, a city councilor who came to deliver the gifts, marveled at how many toys Kaia had collected.
“I don’t think we collected half the gifts she did,” he said. “She’s extraordinary.”
Wrapped presents were labeled by gender and age, and others were put loose in the chest for all the children to enjoy.
Down the hall, Kaia was joking with her friends on the hospital staff, who had said they were happy to see “her crazy self.”
“I’m not a crazy self,” she said with a mischievous smile that suggested otherwise.
Sooknanan said Kaia has been getting better, and that if she keeps making progress, she will need treatment less often. But many of the patients need frequent care that can involve lengthy hospital stays.
Diagnosed with a blood disorder, Michael Alterio, 6, receives regular treatments at the clinic and had met Kaia on previous visits. He was thrilled by his gift, a Super Mario figure, and immediately removed it from the box. Then he put Mario to work, wrapping his hand around a pencil so he could answer some of the questions on his worksheet. It was nice to have some help, he said.
In the hall, 2-year-old Savannah Kellar, whose brother was receiving his regular treatment, was playing with her present, a doll stroller. Up and down the hall she went. She had already named her Lola.
Around the corner came Kaia. Over the last hour she had hugged nearly everyone she saw, doctors and nurses she knew well, parents and children she didn’t. If an adult did not scoop her up, she hugged their knees.
When she saw little Savannah, happy as could be with her new present, she opened her arms wide, and clasped her tight. This time, she held the hug just a little longer.
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.