Chicago: Christmas may be weeks away but a terminally ill 5-year-old boy in the US state of Tennessee had his last wish fulfilled, dying in the arms of Santa Claus after he was afraid that he would miss Christmas.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, whose 136-kg frame and real white beard and curled mustache make him a popular Santa in Knoxville city.
“When I got there, it was my job to make sure he got Christmas,” Schmitt-Matzen told NBC affiliate WBIR channel through tears.
Schmitt-Matzen said he had just returned home from work about a month and a half ago a when a nurse at a local hospital called him and said she had a very sick child who wanted to see Santa.
“He was more concerned about missing Christmas, than dying,” Schmitt-Matzen said.
After he arrived at the hospital room within 15 minutes, Schmitt-Matzen asked the boy, “Whats this I hear youre going to be missing Christmas this year?”
Thats when the boy told him he heard he was going to die.
“Well, youre not going to miss Christmas, the elves already had your present, we knew you wanted this for a long time,” he said he told the boy.
“Really?” the boy asked, according to Schmitt-Matzen.
He then gave the boy the gift his mother had given “and that put a grin on his face,” he said.
Schmitt-Matzen choked up as he said that he told the boy “When you get up those pearly gates, you just tell them youre Santas number one elf.”
“I am?” the boy asked, perking up, according to Schmitt- Matzen.
“You sure are, Im sure theyll let you right in,” he said.
The boy then gave him a big hug, he said, and “he just looked at me and said, Santa, can you help me?”
“And thats when he passed,” Schmitt-Matzen said.
Schmitt-Matzen first told the sad story to Knoxville News Sentinel and it has since gained national attention.
He said that after the boy died in his arms, he left the hospital as fast as he could.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of (stuff). But I ran by the nurses station bawling my head off,” he told the paper.
Schmitt-Matzen said he was ready to hang up his Santa suit for good in despair, but found the strength for one more childrens show.
“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realise the role I have to play,” said the part-time Santa, whose Facebook page has been flooded with likes. “For them and for me.”