Terminally ill child dies in Santa's arms


Some children of afraid of Santa Claus -- others think of him as a best friend. For one actor, he was able to grant a child's final wish as Santa Claus.

Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen is perhaps one of the most idyllic-looking Santas to ever exist. Not only is his 6 foot, 310 frame perfect for the jolly man, but his white beard is all him -- except he does dye it to make it the whitest it can be.

He was also born on December 6, which happens to be Saint Nicholas Day. Some may have shied away from their Christmas doppelgänger, but Schmitt-Matzen certainly embraced it: he became a professionally-trained Santa.

See Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen as Santa

Usually, Schmitt-Matzen's character brings him joy as it brings the people he interacts with. Some children, however, move him to tears.

Sometimes, he visits local hospitals as Santa. One day he received a call from a nurse that 5-year-old boy requested to see him. "I told her, 'OK, just let me change into my outfit,'" he told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "She said, 'There isn't time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.'"

He hustled to the hospital in 15 minutes. When he arrived he was handed a present to give to the little boy. Schmitt-Matzen commented that he was almost too weak to open it.

He continued, "'They say I'm gonna die,' he told me. 'How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?'" Schmitt-Matzen then told him to tell whoever he sees that he's Santa's Number One Elf.

The boy gave Schmitt-Matzen a hug and asked him, "Santa, can you help me?"

"I wrapped my arms around him," Schmitt-Matzen said. "Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him."

Schmitt-Matzen went into despair over the boy and his family. His mother ran in afterwards, wanting a last moment with her son. "I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I've seen my share," he said, but he could not handle this.

The devastating visit made him want to hang up his suit forever, but he will continue on as Santa. "When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold," he said. "It made me realize the role I have to play."