‘Santa’ brightens Christmas for family

The bags were packed, the tickets in hand, and the Abazi family was ready to go to Disney World.

It never happened.

The trip was planned for March. Redi Abazi, 32, a popular teacher at Derby Middle School, had been diagnosed with gastric cancer a year earlier in 2010. He immediately started treatment but the cancer continued to spread.

Lindsay Abazi said her husband planned the trip because he wanted to spend a final vacation with his family. But three days before they were about to leave, Redi Abazi’s cancer got the better of him. He was rushed to the emergency room and subsequently, placed in hospice care. He died in June.

“That was one of his big regrets,” said Lindsay. “He really wanted to spoil the kids that one last time.”

Enter Norm Yatooma, also known as “Santa Claus” when the holidays arrive.

He arrived at the Abazi household Sunday afternoon with a bagful of gifts, from toys to groceries to household items, along with a trip to Disney World. Art Van even chipped in with a bedroom set for the daughter.

Lindsay said her three young children, Tommy, Sarah and Matthew, are eager to go.

“They’ve kind of learned to go with the flow, but boy, are they ready for this,” she said, smiling. “It’s kind of a bright spot in a hard year.”

Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids helps out the children of families who have lost one or both parents to death. For the holidays this year, the foundation is helping the Abazis, a family in Southfield and another in Lake Orion.

“Sadly, we will never be able to bring back Mom or Dad,” said Yatooma, whose firm is in Birmingham. “What we can give these kids is a memory of Santa and dozens of elves showing up on their front porch with an over-the-top expression of support.”

Since her husband died, Lindsay has gone back to work as a teacher at Southfield Christian School. Her parents are helping with the kids and the neighbors are chipping in wherever they can. Everyone is pulling together.

“Between the school and our church, our neighbors and our family, I know we’ll make it,” said Lindsay. “I’m not afraid at all for the future. I know we’re in good hands.”


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