Heart / Lung

St. Paul’s heart transplant team gives Santa the gift of life

Santa and Mrs. Claus will stay safe from COVID.
Santa Claus (Chris Pedlar) was the recipient of a new heart at St. Paul's Hospital earlier this year. With wife Nancy Bean (Mrs. Claus), the two celebrate Pedlar's ultimate gift of a heart transplant. Photo: MH Photography

Chris Pedlar has been a mall Santa Claus for the past 15 years in the Vancouver area, listening to countless kids rhyme off their Christmas-present wishes.

The jolly Langley retiree, whose wide girth and authentic snowy beard put him straight out of Central Casting, loves every minute of being Santa together with his wife, Nancy Bean, who is his Mrs. Claus.

This year, the act of giving is particularly significant for the couple, who are popular among kids and families and dedicated to their alter-egos. On January 5, Pedlar received a new heart at St. Paul’s Hospital – the ultimate gift.

“Get your affairs in order”

The 70-year-old’s heart troubles began in spring 2019 when he went to his hospital complaining of trouble breathing. He underwent a series of tests and was told he had congestive heart failure. His heart was operating at only 20 per cent capacity.

“The doctors said they couldn’t do anything for me,” says Pedlar. “And they told me to get my affairs in order.”

He refused to accept that he would die and pressed his doctors for more options.

Ventricular Assist Device a bridge to transplant surgery

Finally, as his health deteriorated, he was transferred to St. Paul’s where in May 2019, he had ventricular assist device (VAD) surgery that serves as a bridge to a heart transplant. Most patients awaiting a transplanted heart (sometimes for as long as two years) would likely die without the VAD, a kind of mechanical heart pump implanted into the failing organ, says Erica Johansson, a nurse with St. Paul’s VAD and Heart Transplant program.

Erica Johansson, VAD and Heart Transplant Program Nurse, St. Paul’s

She recalls how Pedlar wanted to be Santa even with the VAD, which includes an external device connected with cords to the component in his heart. “He put it under his big red coat. We made it safe so the kids couldn’t pull on it.”

Last December, while he still had his VAD, Pedlar and Bean were guests of St. Paul’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” rounds where they shared his story to patients and staff.

Life-changing January news

Soon the VAD wouldn’t be an issue. At the beginning 2020, Pedlar got the call: A heart was ready. On January 5, his transplant team performed the surgery at St. Paul’s, BC’s only centre for heart transplants. (It would be one of 29 adult heart transplants surgeons would perform at St. Paul’s in 2020 to date.)

The Clauses do the “It’s a Wonderful Life” rounds in Dec. 2019 at St. Paul’s, before the transplant surgery

Pedlar spent about 10 days recuperating from the transplant surgery, receiving care befitting, well, Santa. “The team all treated me so gloriously,” he says.

Johansson recalls that he asked the care team to call him Santa.

Almost a year later, Pedlar feels “excellent” and thrilled to be Santa once again, even if visits must be done virtually and not in person (he’s worked in Richmond and Coquitlam malls).

Mrs. Claus and Santa Claus are doing Christmas visits with kids differently this year – remotely. Photo: MH Photography

Children ask Santa Chris and his reindeer to stay safe from COVID

This year, while children are asking Santa and Mrs. Claus for the usual – things like Legos and Barbie dolls – there’s a new layer to their requests. They want to know the Clauses will be safe this year because of COVID.

“I’ve told the kids there are no cases of COVID at the North Pole and that the reindeer are very safe,” Pedlar tells them. “They worry about Rudolph in particular.”

“Santa assures the kids that Dr. Bonnie Henry has allowed him to visit them and that he’ll wear a mask. He’ll even make the reindeer wear masks just to be safe,” says Bean (Mrs. Claus).  

In the spirit of the season and of his own good fortune, Pedlar will donate a portion of the fees charged for photos of children with him and Mrs. Claus to BC Transplant.

“Santa Chris’s new heart has given him the opportunity to keep spreading the magic of Christmas to families around the world, says Mrs. Claus. “Even his new heart keeps on giving.”

Despite missing being Santa in person this year, Pedlar has perspective. “It’s a total miracle that I’m here. God brought me back to life to be a Santa.”

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