Santa Bill Is on a Ventilator—but the Vax May Have Saved His Life
This is when Santa Bill makes most of his income, and his son is worried that the father will lose his house after being sidelined and as medical bills pile up.
Last Christmas, the pandemic forced the Denver-Boulder area’s best known Santa to talk to the children from inside an inflatable snow globe.
“That doesn’t make the magic happen,” Brack Lee, son of William “Santa Bill” Lee, told The Daily Beast. “He managed as best he could.”
But with the new year came the COVID-19 vaccine. Santa Bill figured he would be back to bringing Christmas cheer as he had been for 35 of his 72 years.
“Dad was like, ‘Sign me up,’” Brack said.
Santa Bill got both jabs as soon as they were available.
This holiday season was approaching when Santa Bill went for his annual physical on Nov. 8. His doctor advised him to get the booster shot. He immediately scheduled it, but somehow contracted COVID and fell ill before the appointment.
On Nov. 14, Santa Bill’s oxygen level fell so low that he was transported by ambulance from the small ranch in the Colorado mountains where he keeps reindeer and burros.
“He’s helped deliver baby reindeer,” Brack notes.
Santa Bill was admitted to the same ICU where he had been nearly a decade before after a truck ran over him and crushed his rib cage. His family had put a sign up beside his bed during his first time there to protect an essential element of his identity and livelihood:
“DO NOT SHAVE”
During that previous stint, a nurse had explained to Santa Bill that the doctors were considering giving him a tracheotomy if his breathing did not improve. That would have meant losing the beard, and Santa Bill suddenly improved. He was out of the hospital in a few days and was fit enough to run the Pikes Peak marathon four months later. He was his full jolly self by Christmas, with the undimmed quality that had led him to become a Santa in the first place.
“Somebody told him he had the twinkle in his eye that matches Santa’s,” Brack said. “So he grew a white, long beard and just began to spread joy and happiness to everybody.”
But there had been lasting tissue damage to his lungs that now seemed to make him more vulnerable to COVID-19 despite the vaccine. Some of the same nurses from his first ICU stint were there when he arrived for a second one last month. And the family saw no need to put up a DO NOT SHAVE sign.
“They knew,” Brack told The Daily Beast.
The doctors suggested that if the vaccine had not kept Santa Bill out of the ICU, it had kept him out of the morgue. They credited the jab as his condition improved to where he was moved from the ICU.
“The doctors basically told him that getting the vaccine is what is helping him,” Brack recalled.
The holiday season was nigh, and Santa Bill was set on resuming an annual tradition that culminates with him going from house to house in the 36 hours leading up to Christmas morning. He consulted with his caregivers about how he could resume being Santa. He figured he could bring along an oxygen tank.
“If he had to portray Santa and have oxygen with him at the same time, he could turn that into an educational moment about how the pandemic is affecting even Santa,” Brack said.
But Santa Bill remained vulnerable due to the damage his lungs had suffered nearly a decade before the pandemic. He took a bad turn and was readmitted to the ICU. He was intubated, but his son told The Daily Beast he was holding his own on Wednesday. The doctors were still of the opinion that he is better off for having been vaccinated.
The son is now 47 and thought back to his childhood days when his father was starting out as Santa.
“Just doing the mall thing… to earn a little extra money so he could get me a little extra at Christmas. But then it took hold. He started realizing that spreading joy to people made a difference in their lives. If you make somebody smile, it changes their life for at least a moment.”
The father had gone from malls to doing community events and then offered home visits. He brings along his four reindeer, taking care to park his truck and trailer out of sight.
“Sometimes, he walks them to the front door,” Brack said. “Or he’ll leave them in the front yard with a helper so the kids can look out the window and see them… Depending on the family, he might bring them into the house.”
The slightly older children sometimes ask if he is really Santa Claus.
“He’ll tell them, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not the real Santa Claus. But I help him as much as I can and you can, too, by being good to your family.’”
The holiday season is when Santa Bill makes most of his income, and Brack is worried that his father will lose his house after being sidelined for a second year. And the medical bills are piling up. Anybody who wants to help out can visit a “Santa Bill is gonna kick COVID’s @#” GoFundMe page.
Brack and his wife, Beth Lee, along with their sons, Liam and Conan, know what they want more than anything for Christmas this year.
“Our Christmas wish is to get him healthy and back on his feet as best as is possible so he can spread that joy next Christmas,” Brack said.
The family’s faith in the jab is unshaken, and Brack suggests the perfect gift everybody can give those they love this Christmas.
“The vaccine,” he said.
Just say it comes from Santa.