16 November 2022

Leza’s story: Creating an extra-special Christmas for children too unwell to go home

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Leza, Senior Charge Nurse at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People smiling at the camera stood in front of a balloon arch
6 NHS Lothian staff on the RHCYP PCCU ward dressed up in festive outfits smiling at the camera

My name is Leza Buchanan, I’m a Senior Charge Nurse who has spent 20 Christmases working in the Paediatric Critical Care Unit at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People throughout my 40-year career with NHS Lothian.

We’re one of just two paediatric intensive care units in Scotland, so people come to us from all over Scotland. There’s a real mixture of patients who come to the critical care unit, from oncology to medical, ENT, trauma and surgical.

The colder weather often means children are more susceptible to viruses, and for our children who have life-limiting and complex health conditions, they need our help to be able to fight it. Unfortunately for these children, they spend most of their short lives with us in hospital. Everything still goes on as usual; it doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas.

2 members of NHS Lothian Staff stood by a decorated wall on Christmas day on the RHCYP PCCU ward

We decorate the walls with stickers and line the corridors with sparkly lights for the children to enjoy. The staff like to dress up in Christmas scrubs and reindeer antlers, and last year we had a stocking decorating competition which Santa then filled with presents for each of the children. For the children who are able, we do Christmas crafts so they can give a card to their parents and families.

There are children in here who I’ve known for their whole lives, and they’ve spent multiple Christmases with us on the ward. The staff work every second Christmas, although everyone wants to be with their family at Christmas, for us on the unit the staff and patients are like family, and we all look after each other.

9 images of festive stockings that have been decorated and hung up around the RHCYP PCCU ward.

Santa visits each of the children just after midnight on Christmas Eve, it’s a very exciting time for the children and their families, as well as the staff! Parents often like to be here on Christmas Eve when Santa visits because it really is very special. The nurses love it as well and like to get their picture taken with him, it’s always the shift everyone wants to work because it’s so uplifting.

For the children who are awake, they’re in amazement and can’t believe they’ve got to meet Santa. One little girl who was with us long-term helped to wrap the presents in the lead up to the big day, so Santa made sure to personally thank her and she was so happy.

For the children who are here long-term, we can buy them something really personal. But for a lot of the children who are here over Christmas, they’re too unwell to play with toys so I often buy them fleecy pyjamas or a blanket, a little toy or a soft teddy.

We see everyone from tiny newborn babies to 18-year-olds, we don’t know who will be here on Christmas Day so we need to have a variety of things. We also give a selection box, a book or a toy to any brothers and sisters who come in because they’re missing out on their Christmas as well. We try to make it exciting and tell them that Santa has left them a present.

2 members of NHS Lothian staff wearing a Christmas hat and reindeer antlers smiling at the camera whilst washing up on the RHCYP PCCU ward.

For some patients, we know that this Christmas is likely to be their last. Making memories is so important to all the staff on the unit, for many of our patients they may only have a few Christmases in their short lives and most of which are spent in hospital, so we’ve got to make the best of it for them. It’s little things like making handprints and footprints, or the child being able to wear a special outfit their parents bought them for Christmas Day. We make Christmas Eve boxes full of memories and keepsakes for the parents to cherish for many years to come.

Christmas is never an easy time at the Paediatric Critical Care Unit, so we’re so grateful for the support from kind donors who allow us to buy gifts for children and essential items for parents to make their experience of being in hospital at Christmas that little bit easier.


Your donation will go a long way to making Christmas special for someone who is spending it in hospital.

NHS Lothian staff stood together smiling at the camera wearing Santa hats, reindeer antlers and elf headbands.

Find out how generous donations from our supporters have helped to make Christmas special for patients and families:

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