Man known as Santa Joe still spreading joy despite illness - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Man known as Santa Joe still spreading joy despite illness

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

It's a tradition that we all have done at some time in our life; taking a picture with Santa.

For one local man, looking back at those pictures is extra special.

"The minute he put on the Santa suit he was a different person," Debbie Darnell said.

Darnell is talking about her husband of 43 years known to hundreds of children as Santa Joe who is fighting his own personal battle with a crippling and ultimately deadly disease.

For several years during the holidays, he brought a smile to the faces of children at Northwoods Mall and listened to their Christmas wish list.

"He would come home and tell me stories of the kids," Darnell said."There was a little girl that said the things she wanted and he said,'That's a lot,' and she said,'I'm not through yet'"

It's those stories that the Darnells hold so dear. In 2012, Santa Joe had to retire his red suit for good. After being diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, it stripped him of his ability to walk due to his deteriorating muscles and nerve cells.

"It's a horrible disease," Darnell said."What he can do today, he might not be able to do tomorrow."

Since his diagnosis, Debbie Darnell has to give Joe around the clock care.

Darnell says it's the memories that her husband has of being Santa that keeps him going during the holiday season, helping him think of the happier times instead of his current condition.

Now a days the Darnells spend precious moments together making the most out of life. Debbie  says this year's Christmas will be extra special because her niece has made a Facebook page devoted to Santa Joe filled with pictures and comments from the countless children and families he touched over the years.

Debbie intends to show it to him as a gift.

"He anticipated doing it forever, he didn't think it was a job. It was an honor," Darnell said.

Darnell says being the man in the red suit will always live on in her husband's heart. Something that Santa Joe agreed with by flashing his  bright smile and saying,"Merry Christmas!"

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