This time of year thousands of professional Santas put on their Santa outfits and get to work spreading holiday cheer. They work in shopping malls and at private events, keeping the Santa Claus fantasy alive for their young fans.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen is the president of his own company, but during the holiday season, he’s also a part-time Santa. Weighing 310 pounds with a plush white beard, he’s a dead ringer for Santa. He recently got a special request to visit a dying five-year-old boy in the hospital who was worried he would miss Christmas.

“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 favor?’

“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.

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“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 realized 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.

Schmitt-Matzen said he cried all the way home and was a basket case for days. He was so depressed he was ready to call it quits but had a change of heart after seeing some kids outside playing and laughing. He said, “It made me realize I have a role to play for them and for me.”

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