So incredibly heartbreaking.
One terminally-ill boy got his final Christmas wish of seeing Santa Claus — just moments before passing away.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen (pictured above) plays Santa at over 80 different gigs every holiday season, but one 5-year-old boy at a Tennessee hospital changed his life forever.
Weeks ago, the mechanical engineer had just gotten home from work when he received an urgent phone call from a nurse who worked at a hospital where Schmitt-Matzen frequently spreads holiday cheer.
The 60-year-old was told there was a “very sick 5-year-old boy” who wanted to see Santa — and he didn’t have much time left.
Fifteen minutes later, Schmitt-Matzen arrived in his Santa suspenders. The boy’s mother held out a toy from the children’s show PAW Patrol, and asked him to give it to her son.
The Santa impersonator told the Knoxville News Sentinel he saw the boy in the Intensive Care Unit, recounting:
“He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, ├óΓé¼╦£Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas├óΓé¼┬ª Why, you’re my Number One elf!'”
The little boy looked up at Schmitt-Matzen, with his authentic Santa beard and asked “I am?” before Santa gave him the toy. He continued:
“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 terminally ill boy then had a complicated question for Santa, asking:
“They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
Schmitt-Matzen gave the best response he could, asking the child to do him a “big favor.” He said:
“When you get there, you tell them you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
The little boy then sat up and gave Santa a big hug, but had one more question:
“Santa, can you help me?”
Those would be the boy’s final words. Schmitt-Matzen remembered:
“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.”
When the boy’s family, who were all watching outside the room, realized what had just happened, the mother ran back into the room screaming.
“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.”
The entire experience completely shook Schmitt-Matzen, who cried the entire drive home. He added:
“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.”
The Santa actor was so rattled, he even considered hanging up his red suit for good — but thankfully dragged himself to another gig and remembered just what inspired him to don the iconic white beard in the first place. He said:
“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play.”
Such a heart-wrenching story. Our thoughts go out to the boy’s family and all the Santas out there making a difference in these children’s lives.
[Image via Facebook.]