East Tennessee Santa insists child died in his arms

CARYVILLE (WATE) - Eric Schmitt-Matzen's story about granting a wish to a terminally ill little boy spread across the nation.

Schmitt-Matzen, better known as Santa, told WATE 6 On Your Side Tuesday that he had been called to a hospital where a little boy was more afraid of missing Christmas than he was of dying. After his story spread across the globe, headlines started popping up on social media with headlines such as "story unravels," "might not be true," and "totally fake."

However, Schmitt-Matzen is sticking by his story, because he said he wants to protect the family and the nurse who called him and is not willing to give the city, hospital or names of the family member he met weeks ago. At his office Thursday, there was almost a constant ring of the phone with questions from people across the country about the story.

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

"I've gotta protect them. It's not me that needs to be protected, it's them," said Schmitt-Matzen. "Their lives are going to be torn apart more than it already is."

WATE 6 On Your Side Reporter Laura Halm found the city, along with the hospital and asked Santa if that was correct. He confirmed. She called every hospital in East Tennessee, asking them the same question, but they all said they all said no, but Schmitt-Matzen said there is a reason why.

"The nurses are afraid of an immediate supervisor, being vindictive, and they know the hospital won't allow them being fired for not following protocol for this issue," Schmitt-Matzen explained. "They would love to have this kind of press. They know that, but they also know you can trump-up any kind of excuse getting rid of somebody later on and they're hysterical. They do not want to be identified."

The East Tennessee Santa said he has absolutely nothing to gain by making such a story up. He hopes over the days to follow, his story will be forgotten and he can go back to life as usual.

"My regret is that the child didn't get to die in their parent's arms, but I've had comments saying, 'no self-respecting mother would stand in the hallway while their child was dying,'" said Schmitt-Matzen. "He wasn't. We didn't know he was going to go. We're not God. She wanted him to have the happiest moment he could have. We didn't know it was going to be his last."

WATE 6 On Your Side will continue to follow this story.

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