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‘I cried all the way home’: Santa Claus grants final wish to child who died in his arms

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, plays Santa at about 80 gigs each year while his wife accompanies him as Mrs. Claus.

The pair has been in the business for years, but a recent experience left him suffering from an identity crisis of sorts, according to WHAS.

Several weeks ago, Santa received a phone call from a nurse at a local hospital who said a 5-year-old terminally ill child wanted to see Santa Claus for the last time.

As expected, Schmitt-Matzen happily agreed.

When he got to the Intensive Care Unit, the boy was lying down in his bed, frail and sick.

“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!”

The boy, who could barely open the gift that was presented to him, hugged the man and asked him several quick questions.

Towards the end of the visit, the boy asked him one last 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.”

After the incident, Schmitt-Matzen said he ran past the family and the nurses’ station crying — questioning whether he was cut out to be Santa.

“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.”

Several weeks later, he gathered enough strength to do one more show and when he heard the children laughing, he knew he had to be strong and continue his work.

Editor’s note: The Knoxville News Sentinel, which was one of the original sources for this story, released the following Wednesday:

“Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful. Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate.

“Therefore, because the story does not meet the newspaper’s standards of verification, we are no longer standing by the veracity of Schmitt-Matzen’s account.”