British Columbia

New heart for Santa helps retired couple continue to spread holiday joy

After almost two decades as a mall Santa, Chris Pedlar thought his days of bringing joy and magic to children during the holidays were coming to an end, when he suddenly experienced a health scare in the spring of 2019.

The couple have been Santa and Mrs. Claus for 15 years

Chris Pedlar and Nancy Bean have been spreading the joy of Christmas as Santa Claus and Mrs.Claus for 15 years. (The REAL Santa and Mrs.Claus/Facebook)

After almost two decades as a mall Santa, Chris Pedlar thought his days of bringing joy and magic to children during the holidays were coming to an end, when he suddenly experienced a health scare in the spring of 2019.

Pedlar and his wife, Nancy Bean, had been working as Santa and Mrs. Claus for the past 15 years when he suddenly started having trouble breathing. After several tests, Pedlar was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and told it could be fatal.

"It was very shocking," Pedlar said, who is in his 70s.

As his heart continued to worsen, Pedlar, who prefers to be called Santa Claus, was transferred to St. Paul's Hospital where he remained in the intensive care unit on medication.

In May 2019, it was decided that Pedlar's heart wasn't strong enough to wait for a heart transplant without the help of a ventricular assist device (VAD).

I am a 'natural Santa'

Several months after receiving the VAD, the holidays were just around the corner once again and Pedlar wanted to find a way to continue his passion of being Santa.

"Being able to create and show the magic of Christmas to all the families and kids around, is what I do," Pedlar added. "I am a natural Santa."

He said by playing the part for many years, he and his wife had developed a significant following.

"I knew I owed it to the families to be there if I possibly could," Pedlar explained.

Erica Johansson, a nurse with St. Paul's VAD and Heart Transplant program said she understood the importance to Pedlar to get back doing what he loved.

"His goal was to continue to play Santa, so he definitely wanted to move forward, take the risk and do what was required to get back," she said.

Pedlar hid the VAD machine under the red coat and secured it in place with the belt so that he could continue to be Santa and spread the joy of Christmas to children and families. (The REAL Santa and Mrs.Claus/Facebook)

So, despite the risk of having the VAD cord pulled mistakenly by children, Johansson said Pedlar tried to make a plan so he could to continue to be Santa with the VAD in tow.

"As the time got closer ... we tried to be creative and strategic about how he could do that but still be safe," Johansson explained. "The control that runs this pump is worn around the waist, so he put would on some padding on top of the controller and then his thick red coat." 

Pedlar's black belt secured it all in place. Bean said all the planning paid off and the year went "just perfectly with no hiccups."

New year, new heart

As the holiday season came to a close, Pedlar and Bean got the call they've been waiting for from St. Paul's on Jan. 4, that Pedlar would get a heart transplant.

"It was such a shock," Pedlar said. "We said thank you, hung up the phone and looked at each other in disbelief."

On January 5, Pedlar underwent the procedure.

Almost a year later, Pedlar and Bean are back as Santa and Mrs. Claus, doing virtual visits with children and families around the world.

With a room in their house transformed as a "magical portal to the North Pole," Pedlar and Bean said they are once again enjoying reconnecting with all the kids, despite the ongoing pandemic.

"He's been recouping and gathering his strength this year," Bean said. "Once we got into figuring out how to do the Zoom thing and he started connecting with kids, he absolutely loses himself in it. He never gets tired."

Pedlar said for children who are concerned about the pandemic affecting Santa's travels this Christmas, he tells them he's received a special approval from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to be able to come and deliver presents.

"I tell them that I'll be wearing my gloves, I'll have a mask on and I'll go one step further and make sure all my reindeer are wearing masks as well."