- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - Alyssa Mercer felt so “weird” about lining up for a mall Santa with just a photo that she made her husband, Shawn, ask him to pose with a picture of their 2-month-old son, who’s in a neonatal ICU.

Santa Larry Paige was so touched that he volunteered to visit little Anthony Jude Mercer, called AJ, in the hospital after his shift at Alexandria Mall.

AJ was born Oct. 13 after 24 weeks gestation. He’s been in intensive care ever since at Christus St. Francis Cabrini Hospital, next door to the mall,

Alyssa Mercer said she wasn’t sure he’d really show up. “I thought, ‘What if he’s just being nice?’” she told The Town Talk (https://townta.lk/1PjihmG).

But she did tell her mother, sister, and some NICU staffers. Nurses called around 7 p.m. on Dec. 16 to say, “Santa’s here to see AJ.”

Although the Mercers had to don yellow suits to avert possible contamination, Santa didn’t have to cover his red-and-whites. And he brought a teddy bear for AJ.

Paige said the Mercers weren’t the first family to show up with a photograph this year: another family showed up with a picture of a child who had died.

The Mercers’ request, he said, “moved me to tears.”

Why did he visit AJ on his own time?

“Well, it’s Christmas,” Paige said.

“What’s 30 minutes or even an hour going to do out of my life at 63?” he said. “And what does God put us here for but to share love and kindness? … Especially at Christmas time.”

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Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com

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