'They say I am dying' and then the 5-Year-old dies in Santa's arms
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, has played Santa for many years, working dozens of gigs each year. In addition to looking every bit the part with his 6-foot, 310 pounds frame and long, snowy beard, he was even born on Dec. 6 (Saint Nicholas Day), the newspaper reported Sunday.
Columnist Sam Venable wrote in the paper about Schmitt-Matzen’s story.
Several weeks ago, Schmitt-Matzen received a call from a nurse, he told Venable. She asked him to come to a local hospital because there was a 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 boy, according to the paper.
Schmitt-Matzen said the boy was so weak he could barely open the gift.
The boy asked Santa, “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 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. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it,” he told USA Today.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen said. “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.”
Venable, meanwhile, told CNN that he knew the story was sad, but he didn’t realize how it would resonate.
“I’ve gotten a big response to this,” Venable told CNN. “People have told me that they were crying when they read it, and I tell them that I was crying when I wrote it.”