‘Can you help me?’ Terminally ill child asks Santa for one more wish before dying in his arms

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Note: After this story was published, the original source, the Knoxville News Sentinel, now says it is unable to verify this story. The newspaper said it could not establish the accuracy of Eric Schmitt-Matzen’s account, but it also couldn’t establish that it is inaccurate. However, another Knoxville news outlet, WBIR, said it was able to independently verify it.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Santa Claus hears many requests during the holiday season -- but one 5-year-old boy’s request brought this Santa to tears, according to a story featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen has played Santa for many years.

He looks every bit the part, and he was even born on December 6 (St. Nick’s Day).

Several weeks ago, Schmitt-Matzen received a call from a nurse. She asked him to come to the hospital because there was a sick little boy who wanted to see Santa.

Schmitt-Matzen arrived at the hospital in 15 minutes. The little boy’s mother gave Schmitt-Matzen a Paw Patrol toy to hand to her son.

“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!” Schmitt-Matzen told the boy, according to the paper.

Schmitt-Matzen said the boy was so weak he could barely open the gift.

The boy asked Santa, “They say I’m going to die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”

Schmitt-Matzen told the boy, “When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”

The boy then sat up, and asked one more question: “Santa, can you help me?”

But before Schmitt-Matzen could answer, the boy died in his arms.

“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive. My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself. I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time.”

For a while, Schmitt-Matzen wasn’t sure if he could play Santa again, but he decided to work one more show and said it “made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me.”