Santa grants terminally ill boy’s last wish, child dies in his arms

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a man who spreads joy as Santa Claus in Knoxville, TN, granted a dying 5-year-old boy's last wish. (Source: Eric Schmitt-Matzen/Facebook)

A man who spreads joy as Santa Claus said he nearly gave up his calling when a terminally ill child died in his arms.

Sam Venable, a columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel,  recounted Eric Schmitt-Matzen’s heartbreaking encounter with the unnamed 5-year-old boy. The story was shared across social media, with people expressing their sadness and their gratitude for Santa’s kind act.

Schmitt-Matzen said he received a call from a nurse about the boy, who was close to death but wanted to see Santa. The boy’s family met with Santa and gave him a toy to give the boy, and he went into the room alone as the mother and other family members watched from outside.

Schmitt-Matzen told the boy that he couldn’t miss Christmas – he was Santa’s No. 1 elf. The boy smiled at his present, even though he was almost too weak to unwrap it.

The boy gave Santa a hug, asked, “Santa, can you help me?” and then died in his arms.

“I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel. “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.”

He cried all the way home and was so upset for days after that he questioned whether he could play the part of Santa again.

Schmitt-Matzen shared the story on his Facebook page and has received many messages of support.

“Truly the example of St Nicholas” commented David Applegate, a fellow Santa. “You handled that in a phenomenal way, Eric. God bless you brother for being able to do that for that little boy. Prayers for you and his family.”

Despite his reservations, Schmitt-Matzen said he decided to do one more show as Santa. Seeing how happy he made the children “brought me back into the fold,” he said.

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