SALT LAKE CITY -- For 33 years, Tom Packer has played the role of Father Christmas in the Dickens Christmas Festival in Saint George and Salt Lake City.
Kids have grown up and had their own kids—who have returned to sit on his lap and whisper their Christmas wishes, year after year.
"I had one lady email me, said she went from the first Christmas—the first Father Christmas [at the] Dickens [Christmas Festival] since she was little—and now her kids' kids are still doing it,” said Tom’s daughter in-law, Julie Packer.
Against his doctor’s advice, Tom, 66, donned his red suit to play Father Christmas this year, despite being diagnosed with pneumonia. On December 14, he finally had to cancel one of his Christmas duties, a private party. Three days later, the man hosting the party would operate on Tom, performing a triple bypass surgery on Tom’s heart.
"He just has never fully recovered,” Julie Packer said.
Tom was flown to Intermountain Health Care on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, he had surgery to repair a leaky valve in his heart.
"It has been leaking into lungs, it's been leaking into his chest, and that is what's been causing so many breathing problems for him,” Julie Packer said.
Love for ‘Father Christmas’ has been pouring out online.
Korri Kinder-Whipple wrote: "...he is the magic of Christmas and we need him to get better."
LeAnn Troescher Ostergaard writes: "This man is amazing. After seeing him faithfully for 31 + years and always giving a magic of Christmas spirit to my children."
A father of six, grandfather to fourteen, and Santa to thousands: Tom Packer’s recovery means the chance to inspire, to amaze, and to love as Father Christmas one more time.
"Somebody asked how many he'd done, and he said '33,' and he held up his finger and said, 'One more, I've got 34 in me,'” Julie Packer said.
Tom’s wife says his recovery is day-to-day, but the family is hopeful. If you would like to help the Packer family, they have set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses.