A terminally ill five-year-old boy’s last wish was granted when he got to see Santa Claus but the visit surprised everyone when the child died in Santa’s arms, his last earthly request fulfilled.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer from Jacksboro, Tennessee, has played the jolly man in a suit for years and cuts the perfect Santa Claus image with his trimmed, white beard and stocky stature. He plays at dozens of Christmas events a year and often appears at a local Tennessee hospital to visit children who are too sick to leave their beds.
Early in December, the Santa man got an urgent call from the hospital asking him to come right away.
A very ill boy wanted to see Santa and he didn’t have much time left. Schmitt-Matzen said he’d be there as soon as he got his Santa gear on. The Santa man made his way to the hospital where he met hospital staff and the child’s parents. The boy’s mother was standing ready.
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,” the Santa impersonator 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 was ushered into the sick little boy’s room and right away he could tell the child was not long for this world. Fighting back tears, the Santa man told the paper how the meeting went.
“Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why you’re my Number One elf!” Schmitt-Matzen told the paper he said as he entered the room.
The boy looked up and said, “I am?”
Schmitt-Matzen went on:
“I gave him the present. He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.
“‘They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’
“He said, ‘Sure!’
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
The Santa impersonator told the paper he then went to hug the boy but as they embraced the child breathed his last breath.
From outside the room, Schmitt-Matzen said he heard the child’s mother yell, “no, no, not yet!”
He said he then left the room and the hospital as fast as he could, shaken by the visit.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of (stuff),” Schmitt-Matzen admitted. “But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.”
It is now looking like this story cannot be verified despite that it was originally reported by one of the largest newspapers in Tennessee. The Knoxville News-Sentinel is now saying that after it published the story it came to realize that none of the facts contained in the article were ever verified. The paper is now saying it cannot stand by its earlier story.
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