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This is just simply gut-wrenching.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a Knoxville, Tennessee, man who is professionally trained to portray Santa Claus, said he recently granted the final wish of a terminally ill child who wanted to see Santa.

According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Schmitt-Matzen was called to the hospital to visit a five-year-old boy nearing his death. He entered the room with a toy and recalled the following back-and-forth exchange.

"'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.

"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.

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"I cried all the way home," Schmitt-Matzen said. "I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive."

UPDATE: The Knoxville News Sentinel, which first reported the story, has since released a statement from its editor that it cannot verify Schmitt-Matzen's account. 

"Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful. Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate. Therefore, because the story does not meet the newspaper’s standards of verification, we are no longer standing by the veracity of Schmitt-Matzen’s account."

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