Eric Schmitt-Matzen looks every bit like Santa Claus.
His 6-foot frame carries 310 pounds, leaving ‘just enough of a lap for the kids to sit on’. He’s professionally trained, has a real, scruffy beard and his wife, Sharon plays an authentic Mrs. Claus.
He plays Santa Claus at 80 different gigs every year, but it was one boy in a Tennessee hospital who he will never forget.
Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer, had just gotten home from work when he got an urgent phone call. It was a nurse who worked at the hospital where the 60-year-old often works as Santa.
The nurse said there was a ‘very sick five-year-old boy’ who didn’t have much time left and wanted to see Santa Claus, Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Fifteen minutes later, Schmitt-Matzen arrived. He said: “I sized up the situation and told everyone, “If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.”
As the boy’s relatives watched and cried from a window looking into the Intensive Care Unit, Schmitt-Matzen walked inside and saw the boy.
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!’
He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.
The five-year-old told Schmitt-Matzen: “They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
“When you get there, you tell them you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in,” Schmitt-Matzen told the boy.
After sitting up and giving Santa a hug, the boy had one final question: “Santa, can you help me?”
I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there.
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.
The 60-year-old said he was so affected he even considered leaving Father Christmas behind for good.
But after dragging himself to another show, he said he remembered what had inspired him to wear Santa Claus’ suit in the first place, saying: “When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play.”