A heartbreaking, yet bittersweet holiday tale has come to light in Nashville.
An unnamed, terminally ill 5 year old boy was granted his one last wish before passing away – to meet his hero, Santa Claus.
The boy expressed his desire to his parents and the nursing staff at the children’s hospital and, together, they worked to make the child’s dream come true.
Enter Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, Tennessee. Schmitt-Matzen looks every bit the part of Santa. About 80 times per year, he’ll portray the jolly old elf for various charity functions. His wife, Sharon, also portrays Mrs. Claus.
Eric received the call from a friend who is a nurse in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit. She knew that the boy didn’t have long and when Eric told her that he’d change into his costume and be right over, the nurse replied, “There isn’t enough time. Come as you are.”
He did just that.
Mr. Schmitt-Matzen explained to USA Today what happened when he arrived:
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,” he said. “I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’ ”
With that, Eric entered the boy’s room alone.
“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 looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“I gave him the present. 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.
‘“They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’
“He said, ‘Sure!’
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more 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.
“Everyone outside the room realized what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, ‘No, no, not yet!’ 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. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.’”
The heartbreaking experience almost made Eric hang up his suit for good. But, late last week, he decided to go forward and arrive at a pre-existing booking.
“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.”