Big smiles, belly laughs and lots of holiday good cheer filled the air as the staff at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital hosted the annual holiday party and play for hundreds of pediatric hematology and oncology patients and their families.

The event, held at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, is a reunion of sorts, with more than 500 current and past patients and their families attending each year.

This year’s production came with a very bittersweet announcement of the retirement of the mastermind behind the holiday play—pediatric oncologist Richard Axtell, MD.

“This is a little bit of a bittersweet performance for us after 28 seasons. One individual has been a driving force for us for this very, very special event, and now I’m going to choke up this time around,” said James Fahner, MD, division chief for pediatric hematology and oncology. “He has made this show possible for the last 28 seasons, Dr. Richard Axtell.”

Dr. Axtell is the talent behind the writing, the directing, the producing, props, costumes and many of the details involved in the annual production.

In honor of his last show, the staff made an exhibit for Dr. Axtell of framed photos from the many plays over the years, as well as a poster for anyone to sign and leave a special note.

For each year’s play, staff from the hospital write the script and choreograph the dance moves  on their own time.

This year’s holiday play took its inspiration from the movie “Toy Story 4”  and its popular theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”

Members of the medical team traded their scrubs and white coats for costumes to play Buzz Lightyear, Sheriff Woody, Little Bo Peep, Forky and other favorites.  A choreographed dance took place mid-way through where doctors and nurses busted a move with black lights and glowing apparel.

Kiddos laughed from the audience as their favorite doctors and nurses acted goofy on stage or forgot their lines.

The museum and carousel was open for all to explore with special crafts, games, food and more.

Santa and Mrs. Claus even stopped by to extend holiday wishes and talk with little boys and girls.

“I think this is truly ‘therapy’ for our entire team of caregivers,” Dr. Fahner said. “Seeing our precious kids and families enjoying so much holiday cheer is a real comfort and joy to our staff.”