Heart and lung transplant patients at UCLA have a lot to celebrate during the holiday season. After all, there’s no better gift than the gift of life from an organ donor. So staff at the UCLA heart and lung transplant programs at Reagan UCLA Medical Center help them celebrate life by hosting two spectacular annual holiday parties — one for adults and another for children.

Patients young and old come together full of cheer, thankfulness and an overwhelming sense of pride in their newfound health, said party organizers. Patients, staff and donor families even join in to provide do-it-yourself entertainment with special performances.

“It’s amazing to see a patient who could barely breathe last year get up on stage and play the flute for 20 minutes,” said Stephanie Fraschilla, a nurse manager in the adult transplant program. One patient, a famous jazz musician, makes the trip every year from Hawaii to share his musical talents.

The party for pediatric heart transplant patients is similarly inspiring.

“The holiday party is a time for these kids to be kids,” said Dr. Juan Alejos, director of the UCLA Pediatric Heart Transplant Program. “It’s a wonderful experience for our medical team, too. We get to see these kids have fun.”

Santa makes a special visit to the pediatric party, loaded with gifts donated by Mattel Inc. and private donors. There is no cost to the families, and children can invite siblings and other family members.

The magic of these holiday parties isn’t limited to transplant recipients. Families of recipients, patients awaiting transplantation and caregivers are also invited to attend. It’s this mix that makes the parties such a special occasion.

“I remember a woman last year who was on oxygen, in the back of the room,” said Fraschilla. “She mingled and spoke with people who had been through the same experience. That was three hours of positive energy coming her way. Our medical teams work to prepare patients for what’s ahead, but nothing can match the experiences shared by someone who has been down that path.”

This story originally ran in UCLA Health Employee News.