A terminally-ill boy's final wish to see Santa Claus was granted just before he passed away.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, is a mechanical engineer and the president of Packaging Seals & Engineering, the Daily Mail reported. During his spare time, he plays the role of Santa Claus.
Schmitt-Matzen's 6-foot, 310-pound build and large, snowy-white beard make him the perfect Santa Claus. He does about 80 gigs a year with his wife, who plays the role of Mrs. Claus.
One day, Schmitt-Matzen got a phone call from a nurse, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
“I’d just gotten home from work that day,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “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.’"
It only took about 15 minutes for Santa to make it to the hospital, where met the little boy and his family.
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,” Schmitt-Matzen recalled. “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 little boy's family watched from a window of the Intensive Care Unit as the boy got his final wish to meet Santa Claus. Schmitt-Matzen said:
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.
Schmitt-Matzen said the experience affected him so much, he considered hanging up the Santa suit for good.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.
“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.”
Schmitt-Matzen has done another show since the boy passed away. He said the gig gave him hope and reminded him why he puts the suit on 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."