UPDATE: Further investigation into this story has revealed that the source of the news could not be verified by Knoxville News Sentinel. The Sentinel have since published a retraction of the story on grounds that they are unable to verify the account given to them by Eric Schmitt-Matzen.
An American Santa Claus actor, who granted the final wish of a child that then died in his arms, has spoken of difficulties in the aftermath of the heart-wrenching moment.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 60, from Tennessee, had been performing as Santa Claus for years, averaging around 80 gigs each season. He was at home when a nurse from a local hospital rang asking him to come urgently: a dying 5-year-old boy wanted to see Santa Claus. And there wasn't much time.
He hurried to the hospital and met the child's family. The boy's mother had bought a toy that she wanted Santa Claus to give to him. Schmitt-Matzen 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.'" He then approached the child's bed with the toy alone.
He said: "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!'"
"He looked up and said, 'I am?'"
"I said, 'Sure!'"
"I gave him the present. 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."
'"They say I'm gonna die,' he told me. 'How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?'"
"I said, 'Can you do me a big favour?'"
"He said, 'Sure!'"
"When you get there, you tell 'em you're Santa's Number One elf, and I know they'll let you in."
"He said, 'They will?'"
"I said, 'Sure!'"
"He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: 'Santa, can you help me?'
"I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him."
"Everyone outside the room realised what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, 'No, no, not yet!' I handed her son back and left as fast as I could."
"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."
"I cried all the way home," Schmitt-Matzen told Knoxville News Sentinal . "I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive."