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SURVIVING CHRISTMAS IN HOSPITAL WITH FAITH.

Byline: DENNIS McCARTHY

Bright and early Christmas morning, Francisco Santa Cruz will gather his family around the tree to open presents before heading over to meet Roy Lucas Jr. at Northridge Hospital Medical Center by 10 a.m.

The youngest of Francisco's five children will ask their dad why he has to go. It's Christmas -- can't he stay and play with them?

The 50-year-old Northridge father will smile and tell the young ones he has a special mission -- to help Santa deliver a few more presents for his boss, the Man Upstairs.

Christmas is his boss' son's birthday, Francisco says, and there are some sick people in the hospital right now who believe in him and need his help and comfort. He doesn't want to let them down.

When he arrives at the hospital, Roy, 76, will hand Francisco one of two clipboards, each one with the names of 25 to 30 patients.

When these patients entered the hospital, they had all volunteered their religion as Christian. They were then asked if they wanted a visitor from their faith to drop by their rooms while they were here.

Patients of Jewish, Muslim and all other faiths get the same opportunity -- visits from volunteers who share their religions.

They are called spiritual care volunteers, and the busiest on Christmas are Francisco Santa Cruz and Roy Lucas Jr. No one wants to be in a hospital on one of the happiest, holiest days of the year, so what these patients need more than anything, besides good care, is good cheer.

The nurses on each floor tip off Roy and Francisco to which patients have been getting visitors and which ones have not. They always spend a little extra time with the ones who have not.

``Often, you'll walk into a room and can tell the person's been crying,'' Francisco says. ``If you can walk out 10 or 15 minutes later leaving a smile on their face, well, it's the greatest gift in the world.''

That's when you realize something, Roy says: The fringe benefits of this volunteer job are pretty good.

``You've come to cheer them up, but you walk out cheered up yourself,'' says the retired construction company manager.

That was the case Friday when Roy and Francisco walked into Liliana Bolton's room and pulled up a chair. Liliana, who had undergone bladder surgery a few days earlier, was grateful that the men had stopped by to see how she was doing.

``Can I say a quick prayer for you, Liliana?'' Roy asked before leaving.

``Absolutely,'' the young Santa Clarita woman said.

A quick prayer never hurts, especially when you're in the hospital.

In November, the 15 spiritual care volunteers at the hospital visited 1,600 patients.

``That's a lot of smiles,'' said Gabriella Evans, volunteer coordinator at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. She's always looking for more help and can be reached at (818) 885-8500, Ext. 2961.

Francisco hopes to be home by 3 p.m. Christmas Day, after he and Roy have delivered their presents of cheer and faith from their boss upstairs.

His kids will be playing with their toys and electronic gadgets by then, eager to show their dad how they work. Francisco will smile and say a quick prayer for his own family.

And thank his boss for letting him help out on another Christmas.

dennis.mccarthy(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3749

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Northridge Hospital volunteers Francisco Santa Cruz, left, and Roy Lucas Jr. pray with patient Liliana Bolton in her room at the hospital Friday morning.

Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 24, 2006
Words:597
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