'Santa' thanks faith and surgeon's hands for saving his life

'Santa' thanks faith and surgeon's hands for saving his life

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - You likely know him as the Dutch Square Mall Santa Claus.

In fact, he asked us to only use that name for this story. But, there was a time when we weren't sure if he'd see another Christmas.

"I got out of the van, started into the church and went down," Santa said.

It started on a car ride home. He missed a couple turns before collapsing in church a few minutes later. The memories from there screech to a halt.

"Her and one of my friends in the church got me in the car," Santa said. "That's the last thing I remember until I woke up here 31 days later."

Santa had suffered a ruptured aneurysm and had blood in his brain. An aneurysm is a bulging or ballooning of a blood vessel in the brain. The symptoms are generally instantaneous.

"They come in with the worst headache of their life," said Santa's surgeon, Dr. Roham Moftakhar. "It's a sudden headache. 10 out of 10. People refer to it as a thunderclap headache."

A burst aneurysm has to be treated immediately, according to Dr. Moftakhar, who is chief of Neurosurgery at Palmetto Health Richland. It can be fatal in about 40 percent of cases. Of those who survive, 66 percent suffer permanent damage.

Symptoms include a sudden headache, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness and face or eyelid drooping. Many of the symptoms are stroke-like.

The surgery has evolved, and now it is almost always minimally invasive – involving a catheter that doctors insert through the leg, and snake all the way to the brain.

"Years ago we had to open up the brain, and the patient was in the hospital recovering for weeks," said Dr. Moftakhar. "Now, except for some extreme cases, we no longer have to open up the skull. After surgery, patients are left with only a small dressing in the groin area. Most can go home the next day, and they can get back to work in just a few days in cases when an aneurysm has not ruptured. It's amazing that our technology and expertise have progressed so much that we can offer such advanced technology to improve our patients' lives."

For Santa, survival came down to trust and have faith.

"First thing I did was pray to God, thanked him for keeping me alive," Santa said.

He advises anyone who has symptoms to never take them lightly.

"I got out the van and jumped up quick," Santa said. "I thought I got up too fast - don't ever think you got up too fast. Look at the situation because you could be in the same place I was."

He told WIS he's still here thanks to Dr. Moftakhar and a strong belief that he's not done yet.

"There are things out here I can do for the lord. And I just keep on keepin' on." God says get up we're not through."

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