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5-year-old boy with terminal illness fulfills last wish in Santa’s arms, then peacefully passes away


The heartwarming story of Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer who also plays Santa Claus, illustrates the profound impact a kind gesture can have.

Eric, co-owner of Packaging Seals & Engineering, takes on the role of Santa for events each year, bringing joy and magic to children. His dedication to this role was put to the test in 2016 when he faced an emotionally challenging situation.

Eric received an urgent call from a Tennessee hospital, where a five-year-old terminally ill boy wished to meet Santa as his final request. Responding swiftly, Eric arrived at the hospital and was handed a Paw Patrol toy, the boy’s desired Christmas gift. He then entered the ICU alone to meet the child, seeking to maintain composure in this sensitive moment.

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During their interaction, Eric comforted the boy by asking him to tell the “Pearly Gates” that he was Santa’s Number One elf. Shortly after, the boy, who had given Eric a big hug, passed away in his arms.

This experience was deeply moving for Eric, who had served in the Army and witnessed much hardship. The incident left him questioning his role as Santa, but he soon found solace in the joy and laughter of other children, reaffirming his commitment to the role.

However, Eric’s story faced scrutiny. The Knoxville News Sentinel, which first reported the story, later expressed difficulties in verifying the account. This led to public doubt and left Eric feeling hurt and misunderstood. He stressed his intent to protect the identities involved and expressed frustration over being portrayed as dishonest.

This tale, touching and poignant, reminds us of the profound impact of compassion and the spirit of giving, especially in the face of life’s most challenging moments.