Program Helps Sick, Disabled Kids and Their Families Celebrate Christmas

Times of celebration are few and far between for families that care for young people with chronic conditions.

That goes for Christmas and, basically, any other time of year.

And it’s not because they can’t have a good time, but rather because there just isn’t any time for it.

It’s something that Dr. Thomas Silva of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center (EBNHC) recognized some 16 years ago when he started the CATCH program to provide a break for kids with chronic problems and their families.

Just this month, kids and their families from Revere, Chelsea, Eastie, Everett and Winthrop took time out of the daily routine to celebrate, laugh and let down their guard for a few hours at the CATCH annual Christmas party – held in Revere’s Casa Lucia for the first time.

More than 100 kids showed up.

The CATCH program serves kids with complex medical issues and disabilities – conditions such as mental retardation and developmental problems.

“We decided to do the Christmas party for fun,” said Silva in a recent interview. “Although the kids were getting out of the house to go to school, their disabilities were very isolating for the kids and their families…For relatives, parents or brothers and sisters, it can be relatively isolating to have a sibling with Down’s Syndrome or Muscular Dystrophy. It’s not only very isolating for the kids, but also for their brothers and sisters. I think, in the end, the kids that get the most out of our party are the siblings. Honestly, it’s just a really nice time where people have fun who don’t normally get to have too much fun.”

This year, the CATCH program partnered with LeAnne’s Dream Foundation (named after Revere’s LeAnne Sasso, who worked at EBNHC before dying tragically a few years ago) in order to provide toys that were distributed during the party.

“LeAnne’s Dream Foundation was very, very generous, as was Hasbro Toys,” said Silva.

Silva indicated that he located to the EBNHC to start the CATCH (Children’s Access to Coordinated Healthcare) program 16 years ago. He works part-time at Children’s Hospital and part-time at EBNHC.

Silva and the CATCH program sponsor several other events throughout the year in addition to the Christmas party.

They go sailing in East Boston, they go swimming at a pool in East Boston and they bring in the Curious Creatures exhibit.

However, it’s the annual Christmas party that Silva said he enjoys the most.

“As a doctor, it’s really one of the two or three things that I hinge my year on,” he said. “It’s really, really nice.”

For many kids, EBNHC officials said, it is the only opportunity for them to get a gift during the year due to their medical conditions.

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