All a terminally ill Nashville boy wanted for Christmas was to meet Santa Claus — and he did, and then died in Old St. Nick’s arms.
The 5-year-old was minutes away from death when a nurse at the Tennessee hospital where he was being treated called Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a 300-plus-pound mechanical engineer who looks like a real-life Kris Kringle.
The 60-year-old, who slips into a Santa outfit for about 80 gigs a year, didn’t even have time to change into his regular getup.
He rushed to the hospital 15 minutes later in only his Santa suspenders — though he still looked the part with his long, white beard and prodigious belly. The nurse handed him a gift she had ready for the sick boy.
“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 recalled to Knoxville News Sentinel.
The unnamed boy perked up, using his last burst of energy to unwrap the toy.
“They say I’m gonna die,” the boy told Schmitt-Matzen. “How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
Schmitt-Matzen replied: “When you get there, you tell ‘em you’re Santa’s number one elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
The boy then gave Santa a last hug.
“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,” Schmitt-Matzen told the paper.
The boy’s mom ran in moments later screaming, “No, no, not yet,” which caused all the nursing staff to break down in tears — and left Schmitt-Matzen devastated.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers and I’ve seen my share of [stuff],” he said. “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 moment happened several weeks ago, and it almost made him give up playing Santa. But he managed to attend one more event.
“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play — for them and for me.”