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Medical problems sideline Santa Claus

Medical problems sideline Santa Claus

Posted: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 10:18 pm
By: AP

  By LAUREN GREGORY

Chattanooga Times Free Press

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — Normally, this would be the time of year that Alex Soos’ face starts to light up.

For the past 25 years, as the holidays approached, Soos began to look more and more like his joyful Christmas alter ego, Santa Claus.

“His cheeks change. They become rosy,” says his wife, Jo Soos. “And his eyes will actually get a new look in them.”

But this year is different. There are no flushed cheeks and no twinkling eyes. For the first time in Soos’ life, talk of portraying Santa brings tears instead of smiles.

Until now, nothing stopped Soos, 61, from getting into the Christmas spirit — not colon cancer, leukemia, three skin grafts, three heart attacks or congestive heart failure. But this year he’s sidelined because he has lost his left leg, and unfortunately, he says no one seems to be interested in a one-legged Santa.

Soos can’t even consider a prosthetic limb until he’s had six months to heal from his last surgery — in other words, well after the Christmas season.

“I figured out a way to stuff the pant leg and (fasten) it to the boot, but I need help getting in and out of a vehicle,” said a disheartened Soos, who uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and doesn’t have a vehicle he can operate on his own. “People don’t want to have the kids see Santa in a wheelchair.”

He broke the news to Betty Miles, special events coordinator for the Tennessee Aquarium, in an e-mail. Miles, who used Soos as her Santa for more than a decade, said she was crushed when she heard the news about his condition.

“Nobody can be Santa like Alex,” she said. “I cannot tell you how wonderful he is with the kids. He just makes you a believer.”

A nasty infection on top of nerve damage from diabetes led to gangrene in Soos’ left leg earlier this year. In March, surgeons amputated his leg. He fell twice after that, developed a hematoma and had to have another three inches of bone removed in August.

Jo Soos said this health setback sent her husband into a depression.

“He has cried all night long. He hasn’t slept,” she said. “Being Santa is what has kept Alex alive.”

The job loss means a loss of income for the couple, who struggle to make ends meet among medical bills, utilities, groceries and the lot rental fee for their modest trailer. 

But more than that, said Soos, it’s a loss of identity. At the Soos home, Jo Soos said, Christmas decorations stay up year-round.

“This is me,” Soos lamented. “I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I get people to smile. I get them to forget their problems just a little bit. That’s what Santa does.”

As Jo Soos helped her husband wrap his velvety, red jacket around him for the last time this season, he said he had a message for everyone who had come to sit on his lap last year.

“Tell everyone I’m sorry,” he said. “Anybody I told that I would be there to see them this year, I’m not going to be there. I’m so sorry.”

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Information from: Chatta-nooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com
Published in The Messenger 11.04.08

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