Editor’s note: The Knoxville News Sentinel, which first reported this story, published on Dec. 14, 2016, a memo from its editor saying the publication can “no longer [stand] by the veracity of Schitt-Matzen’s account.” You can read their full message, here.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Santa Claus hears many requests during the holiday season — but one 5-year-old boy’s request brought this Santa to tears, according to a story featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen has played Santa for many years. He looks every bit the part, and was even born on Dec. 6 (St. Nick’s Day).
Several weeks ago, Schmitt-Matzen received a call from a nurse. She asked him to come to the hospital because there was a sick boy who wanted to see Santa.
Schmitt-Matzen arrived at the hospital in 15 minutes. The boy’s mother gave Schmitt-Matzen a Paw Patrol toy to hand to her son.
“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 No. 1 elf,” Schmitt-Matzen told the boy, according to the paper.
Schmitt-Matzen said the boy was so weak he could barely open the gift.
The boy asked Santa, “They say I’m going to die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
Schmitt-Matzen told the boy, “When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s No. 1 elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
The boy then sat up, and asked one more question: “Santa, can you help me?”
But before Schmitt-Matzen could answer, the boy died in his arms.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “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.”
For awhile, Schmitt-Matzen wasn’t sure if he could play Santa again, but he decided to work one more show and said it “made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me.”