This dad gives NICU babies a chance to spend Christmas with Santa

Greg Phelps knows what it's like to spend holidays in the intensive care unit, so he makes sure parents get a great holiday surprise.

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By Kerry Breen

Baby's first Christmas — with the adorable holiday outfits and the family cheer — is an exciting milestone for any parent. But for families whose babies are born early and have to be in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), it's a time that's more stressful than joyful.

Greg Phelps knows this all too well, as he was once one of those families. So now he does everything he can to bring a little holiday cheer to some parents.

Phelps has spent the past seventeen years making holiday rounds in the NICU at Ascension St. Joseph's Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dressed as a jolly, cheerful Santa Claus, he knows how to put smiles on NICU parents' faces.

Greg Phelps has been visiting the NICU as Santa for over a decade. TODAY

In 1998, Phelps was in a NICU worrying about his son, Kyle, who had been born three months early and weighed less than three pounds.

"It was a shock, and an absolutely chaotic event throughout the entire ordeal," Phelps explained. "I was overcome with anxiety and the fear of the unknown."

Phelps' son, Kyle, met Santa himself while he was in the NICU. TODAY

In December, 'Santa' visited the NICU and took pictures with all the babies. For Phelps, the visit was so impactful that once the original Santa retired, he took over the role.

"For a few minutes, it helped to bring some hope and joy and brought a smile to our faces, that we have a picture of Kyle with Santa Claus on his first Christmas," Phelps said. "(Now), even though I'm dressed as Santa Claus and I'm there to spread holiday cheer and joy, I can legitimately tell parents that I was right where they were on or about this day."

Greg Phelps with baby William and mom Jimmela Outlaw.Greg Phelps

Last year, Ron and Amanda Sari spent over one hundred days in the NICU with their newborn daughter, Lillian. They were one of the families who were visited by Phelps during the holidays.

"In walked Santa," Amanda said. "It was a really great experience, because thinking that your child's not going to be home with you on Christmas was a really hard thing to deal with. And having Santa come in, and get those pictures with him for Lillian's first Christmas was really special."

Greg Phelps witl baby Lillian and mom Amanda Saari.Greg Phelps

Phelps has also begun to bring his son, Kyle, along on these trips. He helps his father deliver stuffed animals to the babies and their families.

"For the parents, I like to think that I am an example of health and hope that they can see their child, who's in the NICU, grow up to be," he explained.

Kyle now accompanies his father to help hand out toys and give parents hope. TODAY

Even though the Phelps family moved to Oregon several years ago, they still make the annual visit.

"Even though we live two thousand miles away and two time zones away, we never forgot the importance of the Santa Claus visit to the NICU," Phelps said. "We don't know these parents, but we walked in their shoes and we know exactly what they're experiencing. And despite the volatility of that environment, we hope they have a Merry Christmas."