La Rabida Hospital Santa passes role down to son

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For decades, one man has been helping the less fortunate have a merry Christmas. Now he is passing the torch to his son.

Santa Claus left his tired reindeer at the North Pole and enlisted the Chicago Fire Department once again to help him get to La Rabida Children's Hospital on the South Side.

For 44 years, Jolly St. Nick has been delivering Christmas gifts to these little patients unable to spend the holidays at home. And for 43 of those years, the role of Santa has been played by Paul Mesirow of Homewood, Ill.

But after bringing so much joy to sick children, he is struggling with his own illness. ALS has left him in a wheelchair.

"ALS is a non discriminational disease," Mesirow says. "It doesn't matter if you're Santa Claus or Lou Gherig. It'll still slow you down."

This year Mesirow passed his stocking cap on to his son Michael. Michael has been watching his father hand out gifts as Santa since he was a boy, and hoped to follow in his footsteps. He plans to wear the Santa suit for as long as he is able.

"As long as there are kids in this hospital, then Santa will be here giving them gifts and giving them Christmas cheer," Michael says.

Needless to say, his father is proud.

"There's a Yiddish word. It's 'nachas' and the expression is I'm klaybn nachas, seeing him do this," Paul says. The expression means to feel special pleasure from and pride in the achievements of your children.

This Christmas, 25 girls and boys got between three and four presents tailored just to them. All of them were donated by community members.
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