- Publish Date
- Tuesday, 13 December 2016, 9:03AM
A terminally-ill five-year-old boy has died in Father Christmas's arms after having his final wish to see Santa Claus fulfilled.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen plays Santa at 80 different gigs every year, but it was one boy in a Tennessee hospital who he will never forget.
Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer and co-owner of Packaging Seals & Engineering, had just gotten home from work just over a month ago, when he got an urgent phone call.
It was a nurse who worked at the hospital where Schmitt-Matzen, 60, often spreads joy and Christmas cheer.
The nurse said there was a 'very sick five-year-old boy' who wanted to see Santa Claus, Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
He told the nurse he would change into his suit and come right away, but she said the boy didn't have much time left.
'Your Santa suspenders are good enough,' she then said. 'Come right now.'
Fifteen minutes later, Schmitt-Matzen arrived. The boy's mother held out a toy from the popular children's show PAW Patrol, and asked him to give it to her son.
'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,'" he said.
'When I turned around, where is everyone? Already outside, crying in the hallway,' he told DailyMail.com.
As the boy's relatives watched from a window looking into the Intensive Care Unit, Schmitt-Matzen walked inside and saw the boy.
'He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,' he said.
'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!'
The little boy looked up at Schmitt-Matzen and his perfect Santa Claus beard and asked: 'I am?'
Schmitt-Matzen assured the child that he was, and then gave him the toy.
'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.'
The little boy then had a big question for Santa.
'They say I'm gonna die,' he told Schmitt-Matzen. 'How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?'
Schmitt-Matzen then asked the little boy to do him a 'big favor'.
'When you get there, you tell them you're Santa's Number One elf, and I know they'll let you in,' he told the boy.
'They will?' the child asked.
'Sure!' Schmitt-Matzen confidently replied.
The little boy sat up and gave him a big hug. He had one more question: 'Santa, can you help me?'
It would be his final words.
'I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there,' Schmitt-Matzen said.
'He was in my arms when I felt him pass.
'I kinda looked up in the air, and tears started coming down my face,' he told DailyMail.com, choking up again at the memory.
'I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.'
Schmitt-Matzen said everyone outside the room then realized what had just happened, and the little boy's mother ran into the room screaming.
'I handed her son back and left as fast as I could,' he said.
'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.
The entire experience completely rattled Schmitt-Matzen, who cried the entire drive back home.
'I even had to pull over a couple of times,' he admitted.
'My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself,' he said.
'I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time,' he added of the experience, which occurred more than a month ago.
Schmitt-Matzen was so affected he even considered leaving Santa Claus behind for good.
But he dragged himself to another show, and remembered just what had inspired him to wear Father Christmas' suit in the first place.
'When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold,' he said.
'It made me realize the role I have to play.'