Terminally ill boy dies in Santa’s arms at hospital: ‘He sat up and gave me a big hug’

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

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, Tenn. — He says he does about 80 gigs a year as Santa Claus, but a recent encounter with a dying little boy will stick with him for years to come.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen stands about 6 feet tall and weighs 310 pounds. He’s a dead ringer for the big guy in red and even wears Santa suspenders. His wife portrays Mrs. Claus and he has a Jingle Bells ringtone, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

And the beard? It’s real.

He put all of it to heartbreaking use a few weeks ago at a hospital. He’d received a call about a very sick 5-year-old boy who only wanted to see Santa Claus. He arrived about 15 minutes later after a nurse told him he didn’t even have time to change into his Santa outfit. The boy’s mother and several family members greeted him.

4 Fast Facts

  • Man who portrays Santa says 5-year-old boy died in his arms at hospital
  • A nurse called him and said he needed to get there as quickly as possible
  • Santa gave him a gift and said the boy could barely unwrap it
  • He died after giving Santa a hug

Schmitt-Matzen said the boy’s mother bought him a toy from the TV show PAW Patrol and wanted Santa to give it to him.

“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,’ ” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The family, overcome with emotions, sobbed as Schmitt-Matzen entered the boy’s hospital room. He said the boy looked so weak that he was ready to fall asleep. He sat on the edge of his bed.

”‘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 handed over the present, but the boy was so weak he could barely open it. He smiled when he saw what was inside and then put his head back down. The boy asked him a few questions.

The end of the visit came swiftly and unexpectedly.

“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.”

The boy’s mother ran into the room screaming “Not yet!” Schmitt-Matzen said he handed over the child and left as quickly as he could. When he made it to the nurses’ station, he was bawling. He cried all the way on the drive home and described himself as a “basket case” for three days.

He even considered hanging up his Santa hat, but after doing another Santa appearance, he saw children smiling and laughing, and remembered why he makes such a good Saint Nick.