Santa's rosy cheeks led to diagnosis

NORTHPORT, N.Y. --An actor in New York, recently cast as a singing Santa, has been in a frightening real life medical drama of his own.

At the John Engeman Theater in Northport, New York, actor and singer Kevin McGuire is Kris Kringle in the musical adaptation of "Miracle on 34th Street," where his sweet baritone and rosy cheeks are on full display.

But that ruddy complexion was an outward sign of a serious problem inside his body, one he couldn't put a name to.

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Actor Kevin McGuire playing Santa.
CBS News

"My skin was very red and very purple. I started getting joint pain, a lot of joint pain," said McGuire.

On top of that, he was having trouble singing.

"When your vocal cords are in that kind of distress, and you don't know why, it's terrifying," he said.

In May 2012, a blood test showed sky-high iron levels and a doctor finally figured out the cause.

"He said 'Kevin, you have something called hemochromatosis.' He said 'You're rusting from the inside out,'" McGuire said.

The disorder is caused by a genetic defect that allows too much iron to be absorbed and gradually overload tissues and organs.

In addition to joint pain and fatigue, symptoms can include abdominal discomfort and loss of libido.

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Kevin McGuire.
CBS News

More than a million Americans have the gene mutation for the disorder, but many are never diagnosed. Left untreated, the build-up can cause organ damage and even death.

McGuire began weekly blood draws that slowly removed the excess iron. It's a simple, yet effective, remedy that helps restore iron levels to a normal range.

"I've never felt better in my life," McGuire said.

Especially now that his vocal pipes are no longer rusting.

"I can do pretty much just about anything for a long time," McGuire said.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook