"I'd just gotten home from work that day,"The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus."“I told her, ‘OK, just let me change into my outfit.’ She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.’ ”Schmitt-Matzen got to the hospital in 15 minutes. He met the lad’s mother and several family members.
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,” he said, voice growing husky. “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.’ ”Nobody entered with him. They watched, sobbing, from a hallway window in the Intensive Care Unit.
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!'"
After unwrapping his present - a task he could barely manage he was so weak - the boy, happy, posed a heartbreaking question to Eric.
"'They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?Everyone outside the room realized what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, 'No, no, not yet!'
'I said, 'Can you do me a big favor? 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.
I handed her son back and left as fast as I could."I cried all the way home. I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive."
In the wake of the meeting, Eric even considered hanging up his costume for good, saying he felt as if he wasn't cut out for itHowever, he has realised that was he does has value
"When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play.