NEW PALESTINE — Coleton Watkins grinned, surveying the pile of toys beneath the tree. He wouldn’t be playing with them come Christmas Day, but that didn’t seem to bother the boy. He knew the gifts were about to bring joy to those who need it most.

That was satisfaction enough.

Coleton, 8, a Sugar Creek Elementary School second-grader, and his parents have been collecting toys for patients at Riley Hospital for Children this holiday season, a sort of family tradition born out of Coleton’s own journey that led him through Riley’s doors not so long ago.

The toy drive is an effort the Watkinses have undertaken for the past three years. For Coleton, it’s easy to get excited.

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“I love toys,” he said with a smile, standing beside this year’s haul at his parents’ New Palestine home. “I really like LEGOS.”

Coleton, his sister, Kyleigh, and his parents, Kim and Scott Watkins, teamed up to make sure there were plenty of toys for children of all ages who will benefit from Courageous Coleton’s Third Annual Riley Hospital Toy Drive.

Coleton was inspired, he says, by God, to reach out and comfort, encourage and help sick children who are battling for their lives, for whom the holidays might be somewhat dreary.

He knows, first hand, what it’s like to be in the hospital, a little unsure about what is going to happen; he hopes a special toy will make a big difference.

In 2013, when Coleton was 5, he became a patient at Riley after being diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation. He underwent brain surgery in 2014.

“God saved my life when I had my brain surgery, so I’m gonna save other people’s lives with toys,” Coleton said.

Coleton has since undergone three additional surgeries, but he is able to live a pretty normal life, playing sports and attending school. He is, for the most part, a happy-go-lucky kid who just wants to help other children get well, his parents said.

Watching a child who has undergone so much turn his attention toward others has been heart-warming for those who raised him.

“He’s just a real inspiration to all of us,” his father, Scott Watkins, said.

The family has spent weeks collecting toys for the cause, but this year, they’ve also taken donations to shop for surprises for a special patient they know more personally.

Coleton’s good friend and fellow Sugar Creek Elementary student, Brody Stephens, is at Riley Hospital battling leukemia. He’s among those who will benefit this year.

Throughout the charity drive, Coleton has shown incredible maturity for a boy his age, his parents said.

“When we go shopping, and he’s putting all the toys together for the kids, he never, ever, once says, ‘Can I have one?’ It’s all about the other kids,” his mother, Kim, said.

Coleton knows all about having a special toy, something to encourage and give a child comfort when they are not well. He was given a stuffed Rudolph two weeks before the family found out he was sick. He carried Rudy with him everywhere — through his illness and even today.

Rudy even goes with Coleton to school sometimes, when he’s having a bad day, to help comfort him, his mom said.

Coleton continue to be monitored yearly and treated at Riley; those visits will likely continue the rest of his life, his parents said.

Coleton doesn’t mind. He wants to be a fixture at the hospital, not as a patient, but as the boy who might be the youngest Santa Claus of the season.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.