MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The holiday season for Twin Cities Santa Claus is already looking merry and bright after receiving a kidney transplant.
Santa Steve, as he is known, is feeling better and is ready for a very special Christmas.
"Definitely a whole new world since I got the kidney," he said. "It’s like, a lot more energy."
FOX 9 first introduced viewers to Steve Van Hale more than a year ago. At the time, his kidneys were failing and he needed frequent dialysis to keep him going.
While Santa and Mrs. Claus turned to social media and car decals in search of a suitable donor, they ended up getting the most precious gift imaginable -- not from the North Pole -- but rather a dear work friend of Steve’s, Patsy Cramer.
Patsy’s blood type wasn’t a perfect match, but a collaborative program that includes M Health Fairview and University of Minnesota Transplant Services allowed her to donate a kidney to someone else in need. Meantime, Steve got the next available O- organ in line as part of a chain, connecting all the way to Pennsylvania and Gerry Fasano, who had no idea he was donating to Santa.
"All I knew was my kidney was going to New York, then to Minnesota in a 10-person chain," said Fasano.
"We have deep respect for all of our donors," said Dr. Varvara Kirchner, an M Health Fairview Transplant donors. "People come out of the goodness of their own heart. There is no physical benefit to them. And what they’re doing is giving a chance to improve someone’s life or give them life back."
It’s called the Paired Donation Program and it’s designed to make it easier for the roughly 100,000 Americans currently on the kidney transplant list.
Santa Steve says he is so grateful.
"It’s a true blessing to have this new lease on life," he said.
With the new kidney and improving health, Santa Steve is going virtual this Christmas, delivering joy to kids via Zoom.
Steve, now 62, joked he could use a little bigger belly to bring his traditional holiday cheer to young and old this holiday season. His cardiologist and wife, however, insist with what he’s been through -- maybe it’s best to keep the weight off.