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‘Can you help me?’ Terminally ill child asks Santa for one more wish before dying in his arms

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Photo of Eric Schmitt-Matzen courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel

Photo of Eric Schmitt-Matzen courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel

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.

Full statement:

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.

Original story:

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.”