South Dakota Santa gets a new kidney ahead of the holidays

SIOUX FALLS, ND (KDLT/NBC) - It didn't come wrapped up in a box with a bow, but it arrived just in time. The perfect package for James Emery ahead of the holidays? A new kidney.

Emery, better known as Santa Claus in his home of Belle Fourche, ND, learned seven years ago that his kidney was failing. The organs almost completely shut down a little over two years ago and since then it's been a waiting game.

Before the battle with his kidneys, Emery had been playing Santa since his senior year of high school, and he takes it quite seriously.

Along with making scheduled appearances in malls, classrooms and other community events, Emery also makes house calls, but not without his five reindeer.

"I would travel to people's houses for Christmas Eve," Emery said. "I would make the noises on the roofs. Kids would just freak out because they thought Santa was on the roof."

Up until the news of his kidney failure, Santa was booked steady two weeks before Thanksgiving up until Christmas Day.

When he got the call early Tuesday morning that the hospital had an exact match for a kidney transplant, all of his plans changed.

"When you do a kidney transplant you get a second lease on life," said Dr. Thav Thambi, Emery's transplant surgeon. "He's is going to feel a whole lot better a couple of months from now. He's going to feel like a new man."

Emery will have to cancel all of his Santa gigs for this year, but with his new kidney, he can get back in his sleigh.

"I want to make sure I'm all healed up because I've enjoyed my stay here, but I don't want to ever come back," he joked. "We will get through this year and then we will be full going again."

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