Update (Dec. 14, 2016)– The Knoxville News Sentinel says they have attempted to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account, but have not been able to do so. They cannot establish that the story is accurate.
Editor’s Note: Since publication of this story, 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.
KNOXVILLE, TN – Santa Claus hears many requests throughout the holiday season—new bike, video games, pony… but one 5-year-old boy’s request brought this Santa to tears, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen has played Santa for many years. He looks every bit the part, and he was even born on December 6 (St. Nick’s Day).
Several weeks ago, Schmitt-Matzen had just gotten home after one of his gigs when he received a call from a nurse at a local hospital. The nurse asked him to come to the hospital because there was a very sick little boy who wanted to see Santa.
Schmitt-Matzen arrived at the hospital in 15 minutes. The little boy’s mother gave Schmitt-Matzen a Paw Patrol toy to hand to her son.
“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 told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Schmitt-Matzen gave the boy the present, and he was so weak he could hardly open the wrapping paper.
The boy asked him, “They say I’m going to die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
Schmitt-Matzen told the boy, “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 sat up, and asked one more question: “Santa, can you help me?”
But before Schmitt-Matzen could answer, the boy died in his arms.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive. 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.”
For a while, Schmitt-Matzen wasn’t sure if he could play Santa again, but he decided to work one more show and said it “made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me.”