When a terminally ill 5-year-old boy asked to see Santa, Eric Schmitt-Matzen raced to the child’s side – just in time.
Schmitt-Matzen doesn’t just play Santa Claus a few days out of the year. The 60-year-old pretty much looks like the real deal year-round. With a real frosty white beard and the St. Nick belly to go with it too, this Santa is professionally trained (and he was born on December 6th – Saint Nicholas Day!).
When he’s not playing Santa, Schmitt-Matzen is a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering. After getting home from work one day he got a call from a nurse at the area hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. When the nurse said that a terminally ill 5-year-old wanted to see Santa, Schmitt-Matzen agreed to go – of course. He told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit’.” But, the nurse insisted that there wasn’t even enough time for that.
Even when Schmitt-Matzen isn’t playing Santa, he regularly wears St. Nick-style suspenders. So, dressed in his regular clothes (and suspenders) he quickly drove the 15 minutes to the hospital.
When the Santa arrived the little boy’s mum handed him a PAW Patrol toy that the child had asked for. He then went into the hospital room, alone. Why? Schmitt-Matzen knew that if the parents came into the room with him, he’d break down. What happened next was heartbreaking beyond what most people could handle (as the Santa told the Knoxville News Sentinel), “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!’.”
Schmitt-Matzen then have the boy his present, sitting bedside by him as the boy unwrapped the gift, smiled and said, “They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?” The Santa told the little boy, “When you get there, you tell ‘em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
As the 5-year-old asked, “Santa, can you help me?” Schmitt-Matzen gave him a hug. It was then that the little boy closed his eyes and passed away. When the family realised that their son had quietly died, they rushed back into the room.
Even though the Santa admits he’s seen his fair share of horrors (he spent four years in the U.S. Army with the 75th Rangers), this scene shook him to the core. After leaving the hospital, he thought, “I, just not cut out for this.” But, instead of giving in and giving up, Schmitt-Matzen put that red suit on and went to work another show. He said, “When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realise the role I have to play. For them and for me.”
After the experience, Schmitt-Matzen told WBIR News, “I’d trade places with the kid…the kid would have been in his mom’s arms, not mine. You know, you can’t control that.”