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Meet our three deserving Dear Santa winners

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa winner, Hayden Gray, 12.
Sunderland Echo Dear Santa winner, Hayden Gray, 12.

A caring youngster who always puts his friends before himself has been given a special gift from Santa.

Hayden Gray, 12, from Hetton, has autism and severe learning difficulties, but doesn’t let his health issues stop him from being there for others.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa winner, Hayden Gray, 12, with sister Anne Marie Gray, mum Alaine and dad Warren.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa winner, Hayden Gray, 12, with sister Anne Marie Gray, mum Alaine and dad Warren.

The youngster was adopted along with his sister Anne Marie, 15, by parents Alaine and Warren Gray, and was diagnosed with autism aged five.

He was chosen as the winner of our Dear Santa competition after writing a letter explaining why he deserved a special present this Christmas.

As the winner of the competition, Hayden has received a £100 Argos voucher, courtesy of Stagecoach North East.

In his letter to Santa, the Portland Academy pupil said that he works really hard at school and is always there to be supportive to his friends if they are down.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa runner up, Lucas Winney, 8, with mum Sharon Winney and Steve Hamilton from Stagecoach North East who donated the voucher.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa runner up, Lucas Winney, 8, with mum Sharon Winney and Steve Hamilton from Stagecoach North East who donated the voucher.

They happy and caring youngster wrote: “My family have fostered for the last seven years and I love having a younger child around to play with.

“I am always willing and happy to share my home, family and toys with them.

“I know they need extra care and help as they can’t live at their own house with their own family.”

Mum Alaine, 49, who is also a full-time foster carer, said she was so proud of Hayden and delighted that he had won the top prize.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa runner up, Lucas Winney, 8, with mum Sharon Winney.

Sunderland Echo Dear Santa runner up, Lucas Winney, 8, with mum Sharon Winney.

She added: “He is just a lovely boy and with all the children that we have fostered over the last seven years he has helped and shared toys with them.

“He is such a caring little boy and tries hard with everything that he is asked to do.

“Some of his friends at school are unable to talk or walk and have complex health needs, and Hayden is really caring and is the first one there to give them a hug.

“He just takes everything in his stride.

Sunderland Echo's Dear Santa runner up Laila-Mae McAneny, 6, with sister Courtney Collier, 14.

Sunderland Echo's Dear Santa runner up Laila-Mae McAneny, 6, with sister Courtney Collier, 14.

“He is delighted to have won and will be hoping to get a tablet device.”

Runner up: Lucas Winney

A brave youngster battling a rare form of epilepsy have been chosen as a runner-up in this year’s Dear Santa Competition.

Eight-year-old Lucas Winney, from Tudor Grove, has to cope with daily seizures after being diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

The condition is a type of epilepsy with multiple different types of seizures.

The youngster, who attends Sunningdale School in Springwell, Sunderland, cannot speak or talk and has a mental age of just two.

Sunderland Echo's Dear Santa runner up Laila-Mae McAneny, 6, with sister Courtney Collier, 14.

Sunderland Echo's Dear Santa runner up Laila-Mae McAneny, 6, with sister Courtney Collier, 14.

He wrote a letter to Santa explaining why he deserved a special present this year and as chosen as the runner up in the annual competition.

In his letter, he told Santa how he felt he deserved the prize for being a ‘brave little soldier’ for the way he copes with the condition each day.

He said that he knows the staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital very well after spending a great deal of time there over the years.

His bravery has seen him receive a £50 Argos voucher, courtesy of Stagecoach North East.

His mum Sharon Winney, 44, is a full time carer for Lucas - who also has a sister Leah Atkinson, 16.

Sharon and his dad, Clive, 40, were delighted that their son had been recognised.

Sharon said: “When he was a baby I was concerned because he couldn’t do half of the things that other children his age could do.

“He was finally diagnosed with the condition back in May 2015 at Great Ormond Street Hospital when we were trying to see if he could take part in a trial there. But he had been dealing with the condition since he was just nine months old.

“He has his first seizure when he was just one year old and since then we have been in and out of hospital.

“Everyday is different and he has good days and bad days.

“He has spent months in hospital and has a seizure most days which can last anything from one minute to 15 minutes.

“He is incredibly brave.”

Runner up: Laila-Mae McAneny

A special gift from Santa has put a smile on a brave little girl’s face this Christmas.

Six-year-old Laila-Mae McAneny was chosen as a runner-up in this year’s Dear Santa competition after telling him how she was there for her big sister when she was in hospital.

The youngster, from Pennywell, spent seven weeks at the Royal Victoria Infirmary to be by her sister Courtney Collier’s bedside when she was undergoing a planned operation on her spine.

Courtney, 14, was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy at just nine months old and also suffers from epilepsy.

She went in for the planned operation at the beginning of the year, but afterwards became so poorly that her mum Danielle Collier, 34, said it was ‘touch and go.’

Thankfully, Courtney is now home and doing OK, and mum Danielle has praised her youngest daughter for being so grown up throughout the ordeal.

Danielle said: “Courtney took bad at the beginning of the year after a planned operation on her spine.

“She took poorly and it was touch and go.

“For five to six days she hadn’t opened her bowels and doctors were concerned, so they took her down to theatre and found ulcers around the bowels - so she had to have emergency surgery to remove part of the bowel.

“She was in intensive care and it was really touch and go for 48 hours, it was just awful.

“We spent seven weeks in total at the RVI and we stayed at Crawford House near to the hospital during that time.

“Then her great-nanna took bad with a chest infection and was in hospital for a while, but she pulled through.”

Danielle continued: “When Courtney was in intensive care in hospital I was reluctant to let her in to see Courtney as she was so poorly - but the hospital staff said it was best off that I let her see her sister.

“And Laila-Mae was as good as gold - I couldn’t believe how grown up she was.

“She would sit next to Courtney and sing and talk to her.

“She has such a good bond with Courtney and does a lot for her sister.”

Laila-Mae’s bravery has been rewarded with a £50 Argos voucher, courtesy of Stagecoach North East.