All eyes – including TV and newspaper photo lenses – focused on an adorable sight, a 4-year-old girl trying to grasp a Fisher-Price toy and a multicolored blanket on Christmas morning in her family’s home.
But the real joy was on the faces of her mother and grandmother, who were just beaming.
It was the first time home for Christmas for little Beatriz Lasalle Cintron, who was born with severe disabilities and lives in HighPointe’s pediatric skilled-nursing facility on Michigan Avenue.
“It’s the best Christmas ever,” said her mother, Iesha Cintron, inside her Marine Drive apartment along Buffalo’s waterfront. “I’m so grateful.”
“This is my best present,” grandmother Gail Cintron added. “Beatriz has two little presents – and all my love.”
Beatriz, who has a breathing tube and is dependent on oxygen, went home for a few hours Wednesday, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Kaleida Health’s HighPointe on Michigan facility and Rural/Metro Medical Services.
“We know at Christmas time that not everyone can be with their families,” said Scott Karaszew-ski, from Rural/Metro. “So we were happy to partner with Kaleida and HighPointe to make someone’s Christmas a little brighter.”
How many other kids get to ride home with Santa Claus, in an ambulance decorated inside with flashing lights, presents and a makeshift wire-frame reindeer?
“A little North Pole on wheels,” Santa called it afterwards.
Santa, aka Bob McLean, a Rural/Metro paramedic, was asked to describe the ride from Beatriz’s HighPointe room to her family’s home.
“On the ride here, the little girl just held my finger,” he said. “She loved the lights. She never looked away from them. And then the smile on Grandma’s face made it all worthwhile.”
Little Beatriz wasn’t supposed to live more than 72 hours after being born with serious disabilities in Puerto Rico.
“I think it’s a miracle,” her mother said. “Now she’s 4. God made a lot of miracles with her.”
Iesha Cintron brought her daughter to Buffalo before her first birthday, to get medical help and therapy she couldn’t get back home in Puerto Rico.
“I feel so happy,” the mother said. “She’s better. She’s growing, and she’s in school now. She’s more awake, more active.”
Like most Christmas stories, this one had everyone involved feeling a little more joy on Christmas morning. The scene of a 4-year-old girl propped up on a couch inside her family’s Marine Drive home, playing with her new presents, was repeated thousands of times across Western New York on Wednesday morning.
But this scene was different.
This is a little girl whose mother and grandmother never have been able to hold her on Christmas morning in their own home.
“Even though she has disabilities,” her mother said, “I think she knows what it means to be home.”