Hundreds of kids spending Christmas Day in the hospital had the chance to take part in a Christmas wonderland, thanks to a dad whose own daughter died at the age of 7.
Patients at Children’s of Alabama, a pediatric hospital in Birmingham, got to meet Santa Claus, see snow, do Christmas crafts and pick out their own Christmas tree from a tree farm of more than 300 trees set up on the hospital's patio.
The first-of-its-kind Christmas festival at the hospital came together thanks to Mark Miller, whose daughter Mary Beth was treated at the hospital years ago.
Mary Beth was born premature and with a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic right heart syndrome. She underwent her first surgery at 6 months old and ultimately had six open heart surgeries, including a heart transplant in 2011.
During the heart transplant Mary Beth suffered a complication that led to a traumatic brain injury, according to Miller.
She died in 2013 at age 7 after having spent nearly half her life in a hospital.
"I always say that if I had to go through half of what she went through I would probably be the angriest person on the planet -- and she wasn’t," Miller told "Good Morning America." "If she saw you walk by her room, she'd yell your name out so you’d come in and see her."
"I remember when she was waiting for a transplant a boy next to her was waiting for his first surgery, and he would cry and cry and cry," he continued. "Mary Beth told her mom that she wanted to go meet him, so they went to his room and she played on his bed with him and he calmed down."
Miller's experience spending months and months in the hospital with Mary Beth, including one Christmas, led him to offer his help to make kids' experiences in hospitals the best they can be.
When he heard that Children's of Alabama wanted to throw a Christmas party for their patients but didn't have the resources, he jumped into action.
"The difference between telling me and telling someone else about it is that I’d been on the other side," Miller said. "I knew what it was going to do [for the patients]."
Miller, of Warrior, Alabama, works at a local Ace Hardware store. He spent nearly five weeks contacting Ace Hardware stores and their suppliers and distributors to donate artificial Christmas trees.
In the end, nearly 350 Christmas trees were donated from 30 Ace Hardware stores across the country.
"Mark is really humble and likes to dole out credit to others but all I did was ask," said Emily Bridges, community development coordinator at Children's of Alabama, who worked with Miller to organize the event. "There were so many details and logistics that [Miller] handled so seamlessly. We just asked and trees showed up at our doorsteps."
Miller also had tree ornaments donated and helped the hospital coordinate details from having Santa Claus visit with the kids to ensuring fake snow would descend on the Christmas wonderland.
"What we always used to tell people about Mary Beth is that we don’t ask to be special, we fight to be normal, and that’s what those kids got to do for a little bit of time, they got to be kids," said Miller. "They didn’t have 50 people coming in to check their blood, change their dressing or adjust their oxygen tank. For just a small moment, just a little bit, they got to be a kid."
"It was so fulfilling and meaningful as well to see the relief on the parents’ faces," added Bridges. "All you want to do as a parent is give your child the world and when you’re stuck in the hospital, to be able to give them a moment of excitement and joy, you just see that weight lifted off their shoulders. It was just a moment they could be a normal family."
The hospital hopes to make the Christmas tree farm celebration an annual event, according to Bridges.
Miller said the Christmas celebration was a bittersweet moment for him personally. He both celebrated the kids' joy and thought of his own daughter who didn't live to experience the moment.
"She would have had a ball," he said of Mary Beth. "She probably would have been out on the patio picking trees for everybody and picking out ornaments. That’s exactly what she would have done."