By Brian Doogan
Ashley Westwood has echoed the sentiments of thousands of families in the West Midlands by describing Birmingham Children's Hospital as "one of the best in the world".
The Villa midfield player, dad to one-year-old Frankie, visited the hospital along with other squad members to deliver Christmas gifts to children in the countdown to the festive season.
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Players including captain Ron Vlaar, goalkeepers Brad Guzan and Jed Steer, defender Nathan Baker, midfielders Karim El Ahmadi, Gary Gardner and Aleks Tonev and forwards Libor Kozak and Nicklas Helenius met young patients and their families at the Birmingham institution which provides general paediatric care for south and central Birmingham.
Birmingham Children's Hospital is also a regional, national and international centre for specialised treatments and has an international reputation in several areas including leukaemia research, liver transplantation, cancer, cardiac, neonatal surgery, burns treatment and renal care.
The hospital also provides one of the largest child and adolescent mental health services in the UK.
Birmingham Children's Hospital is one of the leading charities supported by the Club under our Villa In The Community umbrella, with today's players extending long-standing links with the hospital.
"Being a father myself, it certainly hit home to me when some of the parents we were chatting with said they know this is the best hospital they could have their children in and that's something all of us in the area can be very proud of," Westwood said.
"It's one of the best hospitals in the world in terms of the care it provides for people in the West Midlands and across the country and the fathers and mothers all appreciate the value of having it on here on our doorsteps.
"There are young people here with lots of different ailments and the treatment here is first class. The staff are brilliant and it's certainly opened my eyes being here today and I know it's the same for the other lads.
"Some of the children have been through really major operations, some of them life-saving, and they still have smiles on their faces which is really heart-warming, great to see.
"It's a cliché perhaps but it really does put football into perspective when you come and speak to the children here and their families, especially at this time of year.
"There's a really nice vibe, too. I have a little one at home and it's reassuring to know we have some really dedicated people here providing this level of care and expertise."
Goalkeeper Guzan added: "It feels very special and it's humbling to be able to come here and bring a smile to the faces of these young people.
"It's tremendously uplifting for us to be able to brighten up their day in whatever way we're able to.
"Birmingham Children's Hospital represents something vital to the city and the region and it's something we take very seriously at Villa in terms of our involvement and efforts in the community."
Louise McCathie, Head of Fundraising at Birmingham Children's Hospital, said: "It was heart-warming to see so many players from Aston Villa putting smiles on the faces of our children and young people and we are very grateful for their continued support.
"Christmas is such an important time of year for us at Birmingham Children's Hospital as there are many children whose Christmases will be very different. They might be too poorly to write their letter to Santa or may even have to spend Christmas Day here on one of our wards.
"It can be tough for the whole family but events like this help to bring Christmas into our hospital, spreading the joy of this very special time of year."
Villa in the Community is a new charity under which all of the Club's social responsibility and community work is undertaken.
The aim of the charity is to expand on the community work already undertaken by the Club by seeking new funding opportunities and opportunities to work with new partners who share our aim and passion to make a difference in our locality.
Villa in the Community addresses a range of areas encompassing football and sports participation, education, health, youth, cohesion and inclusion and environment.
In addressing these areas, the Club work with several partners on a variety of different community programmes.
These include the Barclays Premier League, the Professional Footballers' Association, Sport England, Birmingham Public Health, West Midlands Police, The University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University and The Prince's Trust.
For further information on Villa in the Community, please visit www.avfc.co.uk/community.
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