In the hospital for Christmas, these patients find joy in special deliveries

Christmas bears at Rex Hospital

Every year on Christmas Eve, the Rex Guild distributes hundreds of teddy bears to patients at Rex Hospital.
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Every year on Christmas Eve, the Rex Guild distributes hundreds of teddy bears to patients at Rex Hospital.

Had she her druthers, Wynell Richardson would be spending Christmas at home with her husband of 63 years. But the eighth floor of Rex Hospital grew two shades brighter Sunday morning when a pair of children laid a teddy bear on her lap.

A heart patient from Nashville, Richardson will pass her holiday in a telemetry bed, watching Raleigh’s holiday lights twinkle out her window. But when Chase and John Pittman brought her gift, she found new comfort to recuperate by.

“I’m a whole lot better now,” said Richardson, 83. “They can keep me here until they get me right.”

As the hours until Christmas ticked nearer, the volunteer Rex Guild brought presents to nearly every patient in the hospital, a tradition that dates to 1936. Before bears, the gift of choice for 20-plus years, they brought poinsettias.

“The whole hospital,” said Nadine Pittman, a guild member and Chase and John’s mother. “We just hope to spread some Christmas cheer and joy because nobody really wants to be here at this time of the year.”

Melinda Scott, director of volunteer services, recalled the hospital once getting a thank-you note from a grateful bear recipient in his 80s.

“He said he had never gotten a teddy bear in his life,” she said.

The bears, a different color every year, numbered 408. But the number delivered depended on the ever-changing hospital census.

Volunteers divided up bags full of brown bears and scattered down the halls, stopping in on patients getting heart catheters and new mothers getting rest. Many of the volunteers had once received bears themselves, and veterans of the Christmas Day ritual brought children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to help.

As they wandered room to room, Richardson waited with her new furry friend. Her husband was due for a Christmas visit soon.

Meanwhile, in the Women’s Center, Cari Kegley showed off her new daughter Margo, who arrived “stubbornly” on time Thursday and was ready to make her first trip home at any minute. Volunteers laid a bear in Margo’s bassinet while she slept, a bow in her hair.

“This is definitely one she’ll keep,” Kegley said. “Her first Christmas present.”

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