By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
WASHINGTON (AP) — Melania Trump didn’t let the coronavirus pandemic break a decades-long tradition of first ladies visiting a Washington children’s hospital at the holidays.
On Tuesday, she made her fourth and final holiday visit as first lady to Children’s National Hospital.
“Wonderful to be here,” she said. “This is one of my favorite events during the holiday season.”
During each of her visits, Mrs. Trump said she has seen that the spirit of Christmas is alive in each of the children, who are battling medical conditions.
The hospital tweaked the holiday program to safely accommodate the visit during the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 lives in the United States.
“Mrs. Trump has our deep gratitude for joining every first lady since Bess Truman in bringing holiday cheer to children who are hospitalized and can’t be home during this special time of the year,” said Dr. Kurt Newman, chief executive officer of the hospital.
The first lady sat in a chair in front of a towering Christmas tree adorning the hospital’s atrium. Two patients, 6-year-old Riley Whitney and 8-year-old Sofia Martinez, sat with pillows on a red carpet in front to listen to Mrs. Trump read a book about holiday ornaments that come to life. In past years, Mrs. Trump read to a big crowd of patients and their families, hospital staffers and singers and dancers.
Her reading of the children’s Christmas story “Oliver the Ornament Meets Marley & Joan and Abbey” was broadcast over the hospital’s closed-circuit television system so patients could tune in from their rooms.
Todd Zimmerman, who is writing a series of children’s books featuring the Christmastime adventures of Oliver the Ornament, said the stories also serve to teach children about kindness, especially in the face of bullying. During her time as first lady, Mrs. Trump has raised awareness about the harmful effects of bullying.
Zimmerman said he was glad Mrs. Trump’s visit would help take the children’s minds “off of what they’re going through, if only for an hour.”
When the reading ended, singer Mariah Carey’s rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You” was played and the first lady went to call out numbers in a Bingo game. The game is played twice a week to give the children a mental break from their medical conditions.
The hospital marked 150 years of pediatric care and research this month. Volunteers opened the hospital in 1870 with 12 beds for children displaced after the Civil War.