The Gut-Wrenching Story Of A Little Boy Who Died In Santa's Arms

"‘They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’" Eric Schmitt-Matzen, who dresses up as Santa, told USA Today.

UPDATE: The Knoxville News Sentinel has updated their original story on the Tennessee Santa who held a little boy as he passed away, stating they're no longer certain of its accuracy. The note states,

"Since publication of this story, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful. Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate."

The Knoxville Sentinel states the information reached the paper indirectly, through another source. The Santa in question, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, has refused to identify the boy's family or the nurse who called upon him for protective purposes.

Attempts to confirm the account separately failed, and the paper is no longer supporting the story.

Sometimes, being Santa isn't so easy.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a Knoxville-based mechanical engineer, is having a rough time after a terminally ill 5-year-old passed away in his arms as he played the role of St. Nick.

"I cried all the way home," Schmitt-Matzen said to the Knoxville News Sentinel. "I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive."

Schmitt-Matzen, 60, does about 80 gigs per year, but this one was, by far, his toughest. He was so distraught, he even missed seeing his grandkids.

“My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself. I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time. Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again.”

This is Schmitt-Matzen's heartbreaking story:

“The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.

I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit.’ She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.’ 

[The boy’s mother] bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him. 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.’ 

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 Number One elf!'

He looked up and said, ‘I am?’

I said, ‘Sure!’

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?’

I said, ‘Sure!’

He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: ‘Santa, can you help me?’

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.

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.

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. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it."

Thankfully, Schmitt-Matzen played one more gig and realized the importance of his part in bringing joy to children at Christmastime.

The holiday spirit, it seems, is what makes the world go round.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters

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