Boy in hospital dies in Santa's arms after receiving early Christmas present

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - CARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - Hearts across the world are hurting over the story of an East Tennessee Santa Claus granting a wish to a terminally ill little boy.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen of Caryville received a call from a nurse at a local hospital to come and help a 5-year-old who was more scared of missing Christmas than dying.

Schmitt-Matzen says he has made bedside visits before, but this was the hardest.

Related: East Tennessee Santa insists child died in his arms

"It took several days to get to where I couldn't stop crying and two weeks before I could not be seeing those eyes all the time," he said.

Before walking into the hospital room, Schmitt-Matzen says he told the little boy's parents to wait outside if they were going to be emotional, so that the experience would be as happy as possible.

"He opened up his eyes, he saw me and I did the usual, 'Ho ho ho, hi there, how are you today?' And I said, 'What's this I hear you think you're going to miss Christmas?' And he said, 'Well they tell me I'm dying.' I said, 'No way, you're not going to miss Christmas. The elves made this present for you a long time ago. We knew this was something you really wanted," said Schmitt-Matzen.

He says that he helped the little boy unwrap the gift, then asked for a favor once he got to heaven.

"Tell them you're Santa's number one elf. He says 'I am?' And I said 'Sure you are, they'll let you right in.' So he kind of sat up, gave me a big hug and I'm looking down at him, he looked up at me and said 'Santa can you help me?' I brought him in tight and I felt the life go right out of him."

Friends and Mrs. Claus have been a source of comfort.

"I was wondering if I had what it took, 98 percent of it is a blast, but you have to have it here. It's gotta be in that heart," said Schmitt-Matzen.

While his heart is still hurting, there's a lesson he wants everyone to learn from this experience.

"Don't take anything for granted. We're here and then we're gone, hug them, give them love, everybody you know," said Schmitt-Matzen.

If you'd like to hug or visit this Santa, we're told he's going to be at the Island at Pigeon Forge from 3-9 pm through December 23.

More Stories

Meet the Team

Trending Stories

Don't Miss

Latest Local News

Video Center