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LaGuardia transformed into North Pole

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The excited kids grinned from ear to ear as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, elves and a snowman pranced up and down the aisles in Santa's private jet.

"This is the first time we are out of the house in six weeks," said Rod Zuch of Bayshore L.I. who was sitting with his wife Nancy, son Trevor, and daughter Morgan, 2 1/2, who was diagnosed with leukemia six weeks ago. "It takes us away from things, takes our minds away. It is very difficult time around the holidays."

Morgan was one of more than 60 children joined by their parents and siblings on the fantasy flight to the North Pole organized by the US Air Shuttle for patients from Schneider Children's Hospital in Glen Oaks. Schneider is a part of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System.

The event was started by Eastern Airlines flight attendants more than 20 years ago, then taken over by Trump Airlines and for the last eight years US Air has made the trip up north. The Eastern Airlines flight attendants, now called the Silver Liners, still volunteer at the event and the 12 similar ones around the country.

"The whole event is marvelous," said Mary McDermott of Douglaston, a Silver Liner, who was running around the airplane taking pictures of the children. "It is chicken soup for the soul."

As the children boarded the plane at LaGuardia, they were welcomed by Rudolph, a snowman and an assortment of elves. They were directed to their seats and as the US Air captain welcomed them, he started to recite the directions for takeoff.

The plane slowly pulled away from the gate and the captain rocked the plane back and forth to create the feeling of lift-off.

Stopping on the runway to simulate the flight to the North Pole, the flight attendants began to pass out lunch and lead the crowd in singing rounds of Christmas carols.

After a 15 to 20-minute wait, the plane left Gate 11 and inched up to Gate 22. The passengers left the plane, headed down the exit ramp and were met by Santa Claus, his elves, games, food and, of course, presents.

"It is a nice event for the kids. It takes their minds off of going through treatment," said Mark D'introno, 19, of Flushing, who was accompanied by his father Frank, mother Lina, brother Chris and sisters Annallisa and Tayna. He just finished 48 weeks of treatment for Ewing's Sarcoma, which is a bone disease.

The past year has been hard for Mark, who was diagnosed with the disease Nov. 30 1999. He had to drop out of New York University, but plans to start up again in January and study business.

"It is a lot better this year then it was last year," said Frank D'introno. "It is like a little celebration."

Eric Rosen, 11, of Rego Park told Santa he wanted a compact disk burner for Christmas so he can burn his own CDs. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last October and after surgery and chemotherapy he is thriving.

"He is doing very well except for some motor and physical skills, which will be treated with physical therapy," said his mother. "His prognosis is very good. Schneider did a wonderful job."

Eric said he cannot wait to get back to school. He is in the sixth grade at PS 139 and will start again in February.

"It is the best school around," Rosen said. "My friends have been very supportive and have visited me while I have been sick."

Linda Winn, a flight attendant from Huntington, L.I. who was making her first flight to the North Pole, was very excited about the event. She said she was both happy and sad at the same time. It is a special event for some of the families who have not left their homes in weeks.

"The day is beautiful," said Jasmeen Kaur. A confident, smiling 15-year-old who attended Richmond Hill High School and lives in Brooklyn on the Queens boarder, she has chronic ITP, which is a blood clotting disorder. Jasmeen plans to be a pediatrician.

"It is a change from the same routine," she said. Kaur said because of her disease she usually is not allowed outside, but an exception was made to allow her to join the Fantasy Flight. "I can't go outside and this is a dream come true."

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