A terminally ill five-year-old boy in Nashville, Tennessee had one last wish to meet Santa Claus for Christmas this year.
The 5-year-old was on the brink of death when nurses from the Tennessee hospital called Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer who looks like a real-life Santa Claus, to request that he make a visit, according to New York Post.
Schmitt-Matzen, who makes around 80 appearances a year as Kris Kringle, immediately rushed to the hospital. He only had time to put on his Santa suspenders, but he still looked the part wit his white beard and rosy red cheeks.
When Schmitt-Matzen arrived, a nurse handed him a gift to give to the 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,’” Schmitt-Matzen said while talking to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The unnamed five-year-old boy used his last amount of energy in order to open his Christmas present.
“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 wrapped his arms around Santa for one final hug.
“I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there," Schmitt-Matzen said. "I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.”
The boy's mother screamed "No, no, not yet" as she rushed to her son's side.
Schmitt-Matzen said that this heartbreaking moment hit him hard.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive."
He continued by saying, “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. Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again.”
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers and I’ve seen my share of [stuff],” said Schmitt-Matzen. “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.”
According to Schmitt-Matzen, the boy passed away several weeks ago. Schmitt-Matzen was so deeply affected by the moment that he nearly gave up playing Santa all together. However, he managed to portray Santa at one more event this year.
“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.”
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the boy's family at this difficult time.