Terminally Ill Boy, 5, Dies in the Arms of Santa Claus

A terminally ill 5-year-old had one dying wish: to meet Santa Claus.

Several weeks ago, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, who plays Father Christmas at about 80 gigs a year, received an urgent call. It was from a nurse at a local Tennessee hospital. “She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus,” the Nashville-based 60-year-old told the Knoxville News Sentinel. The situation was so dire that Schmitt-Matzen didn’t even have time to change into his Santa suit.

Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen Santa Claus
Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen Facebook

Fifteen minutes later, Schmitt-Matzen arrived at the intensive care unit, where the child’s mother held out a toy from the TV show PAW Patrol. “[She] wanted me to give it to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’”

Schmitt-Matzen entered the room alone.

“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my No. 1 elf!’” Schmitt-Matzen recalled to the paper. “He looked up and said, ‘I am?’”

After opening his gift and flashing a big smile, the boy asked a very difficult question. “'They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. 'How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’” Schmitt-Matzen shared with the Sentinel.

Santa told him: “When you get there, you tell ‘em you’re Santa’s No. 1 elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”

The boy leaned in for one final embrace. “I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Sentinel. “Everyone outside the room realized what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, ‘No, no, not yet!’ I handed her son back and left as fast as I could."

He cried the whole way home. “I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of [stuff.] But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off,” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.”

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