The scars hidden underneath his white beard make Jim Hipp the perfect Santa Claus at an annual holiday party for children who have survived burn injuries.
That’s because Hipp is a burn survivor himself.
Fifteen years ago, Hipp was working at a thermal ceramics plant in Georgia when an electrical fire ignited and traveled 15 feet to strike him. The flame burst onto his face, upper chest and even went down his throat to his lungs. He then fell 20 feet.
With 52 percent of his body burned, he was placed in a medically-induced coma and then underwent numerous surgeries at a burn center in Augusta, Ga.
After 90 days he was able to be transported back to his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and continued his recovery at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“I am really happy to be alive and in otherwise good health,” said Hipp. “It’s been a hard road to get back and I want to help the hospital in any way that I can.”
Hipp, 61, helps raise funds for the non-profit group, Aluminum Cans for Burned Children (ACBC), which supports the hospital’s burn center and its patients in many ways. He’s also always willing to be involved in efforts to educate others about burn safety.
ACBC holiday party
Held this year on Dec. 6, the party included 65 patients and their families who enjoyed lunch, crafts, a story, entertainment (clowns and a juggler) and, of course, a visit by Santa.
“I feel like a big hero when I walk into the room and the kids coming running towards me,” said Hipp.
He loves hearing their wishes for dolls, toy cars and computer games and he presents each child with a gift.
Lasting impact of burns
Hipp cannot grow his own beard because of the burns to his face so a store-bought white Santa beard must do.
A red velvet costume can make any Santa toasty, but Hipp is more prone to overheating because the damage to his skin permanently shut down many pores, and his ability to sweat and regulate his body temperature is more difficult than the average person.
And then there are the facial scars. The littlest children usually don’t notice them, but older children often recognize the scars as being similar to their own.
“Why do you have scars? Have you been burned?” they ask.
And as quick as a magical man on a time-warped Christmas Eve mission, Hipp replies, “Ho, Ho, Ho…..those chimneys can be very hot.”