Santa Claus Survives Triple Bypass; Ready For Christmas

PAYSON PEOPLE

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Santa Claus is still coming to the town of Payson despite some recent health issues.

Roger Freeman, a man who has played Santa Claus for years, last month had triple bypass heart surgery after first having a stent installed in his heart.

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Roger Freeman

Freeman, who bears a very close resemblance to Santa, was not sure he would be able to do what he had been doing for decades around every Christmas.

When Freeman came out of heart surgery, the staff at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix cheered, saying the doctor saved Santa Claus and Christmas.

Freeman retired six years ago from the aerospace industry, but for six weeks every year during the holiday season, he played the role of Santa Claus.

He more than played the role of Santa. He said every year around Christmas he becomes Santa Claus.

He received his Bachelor of Santa Claus from the University of Santa Claus and is also a member of the National Beard Registry.

On Oct. 21, Freeman started experiencing some migraine headaches and went to the emergency room at Payson Regional Medical Center, where he was hooked up to an electrocardiogram (EKG) machine. The results of the EKG prompted the hospital to fly Freeman by helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital.

After arriving at the Valley hospital, Freeman suffered a major heart attack. He said the main artery to his heart was blocked and doctors installed a stent and balloon.

After installing the stent and balloon, doctors discovered his three other arteries to the heart were calcified.

Freeman's wife, Jo, was at home at the time and thought her husband's migraines were caused by a reaction to medication, but when she called PRMC, she was told her husband was a very sick man.

She said she was first in denial, telling hospital employees, "No, my husband's name is Roger Freeman."

Doctors at Good Samaritan initially thought they would have to cut off Freeman's beard, but later decided it was not necessary. His wife said doctors realized her husband is Santa Claus. His wife plays the role of Mrs. Claus.

The triple bypass heart surgery lasted seven hours.

He said he wants everyone to know that his heart surgery will not keep him from playing Santa Claus.

He already has kicked off the season with the Holiday Bazaar show, which lasted about 90 minutes.

The day after Thanksgiving, Santa will be at the Swiss Village shops, and will also take part in the Electric Light Parade.

When he worked in the aerospace industry in California, he would save his six weeks of vacation for the holidays so he could play the role of Saint Nick.

"It was expected that I would not be (working) during the holidays," he said.

Profile

Hometown: Elden, Mo.

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired, Santa Claus

When did you move to Payson and what brought you here?

March 3, 2003. We crossed the state line.

What's the biggest risk you've taken recently?

Last month's heart surgery.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

My wife's sister suggested we look around in the Pine/Payson area for a home.

Three things you want people to know about you: Active in the Community Presbyterian Church, enjoy fishing and camping, and love playing Santa Claus.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be in the Air Force like my Dad.

Favorites

Book: "‘Twas the Night before Christmas"

Song: All Christmas carols

Food: Mexican and Italian food and on occasion a rib-eye steak

Sport to watch: Football

Vacation spot: Hawaii and Baja, Calif.

Recreational activity: Fishing and camping.

Movie: "Miracle on 34th Street"

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