Myakka City 12-year-old Larry Morris smiled as he walked into the "Reindeer Room" and saw Santa waiting.
Morris gave Santa a hug, and Santa responded by giving him a present.
"I need you to continue being a good boy," Santa said to Morris. "Remember, there's only 16 days left until Christmas."
"Wow, I didn't realize Christmas is that soon," Morris said with a laugh.
Visiting Santa was Morris' favorite part of participating in the Flight to the North Pole.
The Flight to the North Pole Foundation works with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Sarasota/Bradenton Airport Fire Department to send dozens of families who have children with terminal illnesses to the "North Pole" each year.
Now in its 37th year, the Flight to the North Pole brought together more than 150 children with terminal illnesses and disabilities Dec. 9 at Feld Entertainment in Palmetto.
Morris has been participating in the Flight to the North Pole since 2019.
In January 2019, he underwent a kidney transplant that saved his life.
He spent half a year leading up to his transplant being homeschooled rather than being with his friends and classmates at Myakka City Elementary School.
Morris said he was shocked to find out he needed a transplant.
His mother, Jenny Wingate, said he was born with only one kidney, and that kidney started to falter.
While at the hospital waiting for his transplant, Morris remembered being worried.
"I was scared that I wasn't going to make it," Morris said.
When he woke up after the surgery, all he could feel was relief.
"That transplant saved my life," he said. "If I didn't have it, I wouldn't be here. I was amazed."
Being at the Flight to the North Pole reminded Morris and Wingate they aren't alone.
"It's awesome," Wingate said about the event. "I love everything about it."
Walking into Feld Entertainment Dec. 9, Morris and Wingate were greeted by volunteers and Manatee County Sheriff's Office employees dressed as elves jingling bells.
Feld Entertainment was transformed into the North Pole complete with snow, a small forest with wooden animals, a train going around a giant Christmas tree surrounded by presents, large gingerbread houses and more.
While families participated in various activities, the movie "Elf" and other holiday movies played on a giant screen before Foundations Christian Montessori Academy students sang and acted out holiday songs.
Parrish's Makayla Chenard and her mother, Erica Chenard, have loved volunteering for the Flight to the North Pole for eight years and 10 years respectively.
Erica Chenard said volunteering for the event for so long has given her an opportunity to see children, like Morris, year after year.
Besides seeing Morris at the Flight to the North Pole, the Chenards have seen him show pigs at the Manatee County Fair, but Erica Chenard said Morris doesn't recognize them because they're not dressed as elves.
Makayla Chenard said Morris is always joyful.
"I love his personality," she said. "I'm so proud of him. He's so strong."
Erica Chenard said no matter what Morris is going through in his life, he always has a smile on his face.
"He truly takes life by the horns," Erica Chenard said.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.