A terminally ill Tennessee child had his final wish of seeing Santa Claus granted as the child died in old Saint Nicholas’ arms.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, who works as a part-time Santa, spoke with the Knoxville News Sentinel about a phone call he received last month from an acquaintance who is a nurse at a local hospital.
The man had just arrived home from work when he received a call about a very sick five-year-old boy.
“The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus,” the mechanical engineer told the USA Today network. “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.’”
According to the network, Schmitt-Matzen is a professionally trained Santa actor who works about 80 engagements a year as Father Christmas. His wife, Sharon, often plays Mrs. Claus.
Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel that he rushed to the hospital in about 15 minutes after receiving the call where he met with the child’s mother and some family members. The mother had purchased a toy for her son and asked Schmitt-Matzen 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,’” the man recalled to the News Sentinel.
Apparently the boy’s mother and the rest of the family watched from the hallway of the intensive care unit as Schmitt-Matzen went to the child’s bedside.
Schmitt-Matzen described the boy to the USA Today network as being “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.” Schmitt-Matzen recalled of his time with the child.
“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’ Schmitt-Matzen said of the meeting. “I said, ‘Sure!’”
The Santa actor told the news network the boy had a hard time unwrapping the gift, but once he saw the toy “he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.”
Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel the boy told him that he was going to die and asked “how can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favour?’” Schmitt-Matzen recalled of the conversation. “When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
Schmitt-Matzen told the news network the boy 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,” Schmitt-Matzen told the News 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.”
Schmitt-Matzen said he spent time with the U.S. army and had “seen my share of (stuff). But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off,” the man explained to the news network.
Schmitt-Matzen said he could hardly drive home because of the encounter and said he was a wreck for several days.
“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,” he told the News Sentinel. “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.”