Local Santa Claus Returns After Heart Attack Right Before Last Christmas

His unmistakable “ho, ho, ho” could be heard down the hall. His elves’ wagons of toys could be seen around the corner. And the cheer he spread could be felt throughout the air.

At Children’s National Medical Center, there was no doubt about it – Santa Claus had come to town.

Arlington resident Tom Bailey, otherwise known as Santa, paid a visit Thursday to bring some holiday cheer to the patients.

“Being Santa is the most wonderful job in the world,” he said. “The sad thing is that there are children in the hospitals at Christmastime. It’s very hard for them to have a happy Christmas, so I try to bring some joy to their lives, especially this time of year. I don’t wish this on anyone, to have to spend the holidays in the hospital.”

Bailey could relate to what the young patients were going through. Two days before Christmas last year, he was at a Santa gig when he suffered a sudden heart attack.

“I said just make sure they take me out the back door so the children don’t see me,” Bailey said. “I didn’t want them to see Santa sick.”

The clot in his heart was located in a particularly dangerous area. Doctors call it the “widow maker,” according to his cardiologist Ameya Kulkarni, who works at Kaiser Permanente.

Fortunately, Kulkarni was able to save this Santa.

“We’re blessed to take care of everyone we get to take care of. It is a little special though to take care of Santa,” Kulkarni said. “Saving Santa is so important because Santa brings such joy to everybody at this time of year.”

A year later, Bailey is back doing what he loves: Spreading holiday cheer as only Santa Claus can. He said he makes sure to stay healthy and get regular checkups.

“It makes me appreciate life a lot more,” he said. “I try to take better care of myself. I look at all the children in the world as my children, and I never want to disappoint them.”

Contact Us