HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Christmas season is supposed to be cheerful. For some families, it's anything but. One man hopes to change that even if only briefly.
If you walk into the lobby of Huntsville’s Clearview Cancer Institute, you may see a guy with white hair and a white beard sitting there. “I talk to the patients that come in,” Johnny Bunn said with a smile. Johnny volunteers on Wednesdays. “I really enjoy my job here,” he added. “It’s very fulfilling.”
Johnny greets patients and serves conversation with coffee. “I sold my business a couple of years ago and I was just looking for something to really give back,” he said. “I thought this is really something good to do.” His doctor liked the idea too. “It just makes me feel good,” Johnny said.
Johnny is a cancer survivor. He beat leukemia at 29. “Luckily, stayed in remission for 30 years,” he said. But cancer came calling again as Multiple Myeloma. He did radiation but six months later, it was worse. “I was helping my wife move a printer in the office, broke my arm and then we found out I had 14 lesions on my bones,” he said. After more chemo and a stem cell transplant in 2016, Johnny’s beating cancer again.
Like a lot of patients, he’s had to deal with losing his hair. “Yeah, I lost my hair the first time and of course it come back brown and curly,” he said laughing. And the second time, “It all come back white, he said with a smile.
Johnny was eating with his grandson one day when a woman asked him if he was going to play St. Nick. He laughed and said, “So that's how I decided to do Santa Claus.” He’s turning a bad experience into good. “I was telling my wife, hey, it's great I didn't have to fall off the roof to become Santa Claus,” he said laughing. “You know what I'm saying?” He added, “It just naturally come to me.”
A lot of cancer patients battle their disease during the holidays. And some struggle to give Christmas to their kids. For two hours on December 7th, Johnny became Santa to take photos and collect toys at CCI. It’s his way of giving back to those who did so much for him in helping him get back to where he is today, cancer free and healthy. Johnny, or Santa, posed with children for a little Christmas magic to bring holiday cheer to others.
Even before he arrived, people had been dropping off toys. “It all comes from the heart,” Johnny said. The gifts were for children of cancer victims. “It’s a very good cause and so I’m really proud of that,” Johnny said with a smile. It’s all about the kids. John smiled and added, “That’s what Christmas is about.”
During the two-hour event, Johnny sat there with children, young and old. He listened to their Christmas wishes while photographer Steve Babin captured the moment with his camera. He was surprised but thankful to learn that close to 1,500 toys were donated to the cause. He smiled and simply said, “It just makes my heart feel good.” The event was so successful, the folks at CCI are considering having Johnny, or Santa, come back next year.