HUBER HEIGHTS — All it takes is the hat and Mike Svisco starts getting the double-takes.
His natural, silvery Santa beard, wire glasses and ho-ho-happy smile is enough to start conversations. But adding the red Santa hat at holiday time really turns heads.
Especially while giving platelets and plasma for his milestone 275th lifetime donation Dec. 12 at the Dayton Community Blood Center.
Santa Mike dressed casual for his donation in blue jeans, a big black Santa belt, and a blue “My Courage Defines Me” blood donor T-shirt. But he does have a full red Santa suit, an heirloom to continue his dad’s St. Nick legacy.
“My dad played Santa back in Buffalo, New York,” said Mike. “He was in the Air National Guard and played Santa for families of autistic kids. He had to wear a fake beard, but my mom made him a red corduroy costume. I got his suit when he stopped doing it. I said, ‘I shall use it!’”
Mike also followed his dad’s footsteps into the armed service, with eight years of active duty in the Air Force and 12 years in Air National Guard, all at Wright Patt. “I never tried to grow a beard,” he said. “I just hated to shave. I let it grow after I got out of the reserves.”
His transition into Santa was then complete.
He first played Santa for the “Breakfast with Santa” children’s party at Mary Help of Christians Parish. “Tomorrow I have a meeting with the Cub Scouts at St. Peter’s Church, I’ll be Santa for them,” he said. Do the young scouts still believe? “Most of them do.”
There are many classic Christmas tales of Santa helping a young child in need. Mike is a rare blood type AB-negative donor, and a CMV-negative “baby donor.” It’s fitting that when he started donating platelets in 1995 it was to help a child.
“There was a little girl in the area who had just returned with her family from overseas,” he said. “She had a blood disorder. She had been getting a special treatment not approved yet in the states. They put together a platelet team to limit the number of people she was exposed to. They finally approved the experimental treatment, and she is doing well.”
Mike helps save lives year round. He reached his milestone with his ninth donation of the year. In many ways, being Santa is a year-round role as well.
“I referee soccer, and a mom and her son were watching me across the field,” he said. “They came up to me and I thought maybe I had made a bad call. She said, ‘He thinks you’re Santa, will you talk to him?”
He knows wearing the Santa cap everywhere he goes in December makes being recognized as Santa unavoidable, and he relishes it.
“I was traveling last week and stopped at a truck stop,” Mike said. “The cashiers went wild. I enjoy it. I get all sorts of reactions!”