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Bills and young patients light up the night

The children laughed, jumped and played with family members and fellow patients. They decorated gingerbread houses with M&Ms, gummy candy and frosting, all of which was generously donated by Tops Friendly Markets. They sang Christmas carols. They felt normal again.

This was the scene at Women & Children's Hospital Tuesday night as the Bills Women's Association hosted the gingerbread making party as part of the annual Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony for young patients.

Bills offensive lineman Brad Butler, defensive end Ryan Neill and kicker Rian Lindell helped the children and their families construct their gingerbread houses before making their way outside to what looked like a scene from a classic holiday movie.

About 40 children gathered to sing classic carols "Rudolph", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Silent Night" before a large audience of children and adults. Then, the real show began.

About 10 members of the Stone's Buddies Society, composed of Children's chronically ill young patients, officially lit the Christmas tree outside the hospital, garnering a rousing cheer and sending the young choir into a rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".

The Stone's Buddies Society was named after Stone Filipivoch, a former patient of Children's who spent two years in the hospital before passing at the age of four.

Stone's Buddies director Joanne Lana said the program allows young patients who frequently visit the hospital to interact with other patients and their families. She said the patients frequently host parties for each other, allowing for greater interaction with them, their families and the hospital.

"They've enjoyed it because they've actually made friends," she said.

Butler said the excitement of the young patients was evident right from the start.

"They're so excited, I saw them jump out of the van when we got here," he said. "It's great to see how excited they are about the holiday spirit."

James Kaskie, president and CEO of Kaleida health, agreed.

"It shows the courage and excitement they have," he said. "They're just wonderful."

Lindell said one of the goals of an event like the tree lighting is to get the Stone's buddies to forget about their health issues for a while.

"It's nice to get their minds off what they do inside the building," he said." We try to lift their spirits a little bit."

Gail Jauron, wife of Bills head coach Dick Jauron, helped the young patients decorate their gingerbread houses.

She also witnessed how the children gain a sense of normalcy from such events.

"When they're with their families and Christmas is coming, they're like every other kid in the world," she said. "Their spirits are just unbelievable."

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