An Indiana mother hopes a viral image of Santa Claus pouring formula down her son’s feeding tube will raise awareness to kids with disabilities and their needs.
Beth Salzbrenner posted a photo Dec. 9 of her son, Austin Maners, on social media. The image featured a mall Santa sharing a cookie and pouring formula — from a milk bottle — down the boy’s feeding tube.
“Austin thought he was cool stuff sitting in Santa’s chair,” Salzbrenner said in a post. “This santa deserves to be recognized for his willingness to tube feed my little guy so that he felt included in sharing cookies with santa!”
The four-year-old boy has struggled with a feeding tube since he was nine months old, according to his mother. Austin has also been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder — a high-functioning form of autism.
Austin began eating orally again in September and his mother wanted “a memorial picture” to mark the big step forward. Salzbrenner told WANE that she got the image idea from a Facebook page she follows but struggled to find a Santa who could accommodate.
WATCH BELOW: Feeding tube gone, autistic boy reunites with mall Santa
Enter Bob Gudorf to save the day. Gudorf, or “Santa Bob,” appears as Santa Claus at the Glenbrook Square Mall in Fort Wayne. Austin’s mother said he was nervous and shaking for the photo.
“My first thought was ‘why not?’ I didn’t know what I was getting into, but why not, I’ll try anything,” Santa Bob said.
“It all worked out and I was just very pleased. The smile on his face, there again, just made my day.”
At this writing the photo had been shared more than 63,000 times, earning some 9,000 comments.
“People are learning and seeing that there’s all different kinds of disabilities, and that kids can be treated normal even if they have a disability,” explained Salzbrenner.
Santa Bob and Austin have since reunited for a great, big hug and another smile from the jolly man.
“It’s part of Santa’s job to spread cheer wherever he can, and if there’s an opportunity, you gotta do it,” Santa Bob said.