LONDON, Ont. — Leo Larizza would love to be able to visit friends in the children’s ward on the 6th floor of London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). However he can’t step foot past the sidewalk.
“Children’s Hospital has banned TLC Foundation from entering their property,” says the foundation’s creator.
After more than three decades of delivering gifts and wishes to sick, terminal and underprivileged kids, LHSC Children’s Hospital says Larizza will no longer be allowed to continue, due to an access policy change.
“This policy is not specific to TLC and Leo,” says Jackie Schleifer Taylor, president of Children’s Hospital at LHSC. “We have implemented a visitor access policy, across the Children’s Hospital and we are open to individuals who will follow those policies having access ongoing.”
However, Larizza says he only visits children whose parents reach out and invite him. Parents like Jessica Noden, whose son Landon passed away recently.
The TLC Foundation was there for him both in and out of the hospital and just three weeks ago helped arrange a dream ride in a Lamborghini.
“Leo has been a gift to us,’ says Noden. “He has brought joy and happiness to Landon’s life through the tough times and good ones as well. Kids shouldn’t have to worry if Santa will find them in the hospital at Christmas and parents shouldn’t have to worry about not being able to get last minute gifts.”
She added the TLC Foundation gave peace of mind to both parents and children allowing them to “focus on what is important” at that moment.
Larizza says in most cases his first visit isn’t his last. He befriends the kids and parents and is with them through good times and bad. He added that he’s attended four funerals recently of kids he got to know in hospital.
He’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years through the Santa’s House a Victoria Park, and local business donations. He says 100 per cent of those funds go directly to children.
“If I had taken the funds over 30 years and donated them to Children’s Health Foundation there would be a plaque and a statue for us at LHSC,” says Larizza.
“But because we want to give directly to children where it matters most, we are now being banned. If they’d just work with me…we would take care of the children but they don’t want to.”
Schleifer Taylor says the hospital needed to implement a ban on LHSC grounds because they can’t trust Larizza to follow their new policy.
“Leo would be the first to say he hasn’t always followed our rules. Part of why we had this recent conversation is the inability for Children’s Hospital is to be sure that patients who want that interaction, are that only individuals who have that interaction.”
Despite being banned, Larizza isn’t going away quietly.
“It would be easy for me to give up and walk away, but would that be fair to the children? I’m going to make sure we find a way to get gifts to these kids…no matter what we have to do.”
Wednesday afternoon that process began when he met a mother on the sidewalk outside Ronald Mcdonald House to provide a video game for a sick child.