Santa’s heart gets a little helper

Posted at 8:44 PM, Nov 19, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- He's a man who brings joy to girls and boys around the world, but this holiday season a medical condition almost stopped him from stepping onto his sleigh.  That is, until the man who's always giving gifts, finally received one of his own.

Dennis Jager,72, has played Santa in malls and private parties across the country for more than 23 years.

"I had a little boy come up one time, he had three siblings with him. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he said the most important thing was an accordion," Jager said.

So Jager and his wife, Gloria, found an accordion in the family that they'd been looking to give away.

"When Mr. and Mrs. Claus got home there was a phone message from him. He was playing the accordion and I called and talked to the mom, she said he sleeps with it, takes it to school for show and tell," Jager said.

Memories of Christmas past fill Jager's heart with joy, but his heart doesn't beat like it should, leaving his health and Christmas in the hands of fate.

Jager suffers from Atrial Fiberlation, an irregular heart rhythm that can cause blood clots to form in the heart and break off, possibly causing a stroke.

To prevent blood clots from forming he takes blood thinning medication, but those medications can sometimes lead to excessive blood loss and even death.

"Sometimes when you get the little ones and they're kicking their feet, you know, you worry about that a little bit," Jager said. "The least little thing and you've got this bleed.

Delivering presents was now more of a threat than a treat, until Jager met Dr. Berkompas from Spectrum Health.

"It allows for patients to not be on a blood thinner and there can be a catastrophic bleeding that happens with blood thinners," said Berkompas, who is a part of the chief division of cardiology at Spectrum health.

A new technology called The Watchman works to protect patients like Jager from having a stroke or a major bleed.

 "It's not just Christmas, that's a lifetime gift that's been given to me," Jager said.

Small enough to fit in a stocking, doctors place The Watchman into the left atrial appendage of the heart through a flexible tube, inserting it through a vein in the upper leg.

"I pull the tubing back and that allows the device to expand out," Dr. Berkompas said.

The material of The Watchman acts as a sealant, preventing harmful blood clots from getting to Santa on his big day.

"It's just amazing to me they can do something like that," Jager said. "I think it's the best thing I've ever done."

Doctors say the Watchman will work for the rest of Jager's life, just in time to finish making that list and check it twice.

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