Holiday party brings cheer to kids at Mary Free Bed

holiday party, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Grand Rapids
Children listen to music at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital's holiday party on Dec. 8, 2017.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids threw its 63rd annual Dr. Swanson’s Mary Free Bed Christmas Party Friday night.

About 100 former and current pediatric patients were at the party with their families. There was music and snacks, Santa Claus and his elves made an appearance, and employees dressed in festive outfits.

The annual event is held to make the season a bit brighter for the patients with disabilities.

holiday party, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Grand Rapids
Photo: A child poses with Santa during Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital’s holiday party on Dec. 8, 2017.

One patient who enjoyed herself was 4-year-old Kylee Riggle, who has Joubert syndrome, a rare disorder that affects her balance and coordination.

“We’ve been coming here (to Mary Free Bed) for physical therapy since she’s been about 1 and then also for her braces,” Kyndra Riggle, Kylee’s mother, said. “They have helped Kylee achieve goals faster than we thought she would.”

Kylee was able to walk and dance at the party. Riggle said it’s a big milestone after countless appointments.

“It feels amazing because she wasn’t able to do that before and we didn’t know if she was going to be able to do that,” Riggle said. “To see her jumping up and down and having fun with the little kids, it just melts my heart.”

holiday party, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Grand Rapids
Photo: People enjoy Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital’s holiday party on Dec. 8, 2017.

The first Dr. Swanson’s Mary Free Bed Christmas Party was in 1954. Dr. Alfred Swanson started the annual tradition. He first came to Mary Free Bed to help people during the polio epidemic and treated patients in West Michigan for more than 50 years. Swanson was internationally known for his pioneering work in hand surgery and the development of finger joint replacements.

Swanson was also known as the man who dressed in a cowboy costume for the party each year.

“He liked to bring some joy to the children,” Dr. Genevieve DeGroot-Swanson, his wife, said.

Alfred Swanson died in April 2016, but the tradition is able to go on because of the Alfred B. Swanson Foundation.