Stephanie Jacobson was the only parent invited to speak at the dedication of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rochester. Jacobson lived with her son Gabriel at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester for almost nine months before Gabriel died on Oct. 18, 2008. He was only 4 years old.
A photo of Stephanie holding Gabriel is included in a mural at the McDonald's restaurant. Called The Arch with a Heart, it is the first Ronald McDonald House Charities-inspired restaurant in the world. It is dedicated to the children who have lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester. All of the children in the mural, some of whom are still alive, are former residents of that facility.
Jacobson and Gabriel's father, Jim Schriver, are touched that their son is remembered by the Ronald McDonald people, even though he died three years ago. “He was somebody that people liked to know,” his mother said.
Jacobson spoke on behalf of the parents who've used the Ronald McDonald accommodations in Rochester.
Gabriel and Jacobson stayed at the Ronald McDonald House while the tot was receiving chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He died of Wilms’ tumor, a childhood kidney cancer that affects children 10 and younger.
Gabriel spent the last 18 days of his life in Aberdeen. When he died, his parents received an overwhelming response, including from people in Rochester.
“Even the doctors from the Mayo Clinic called me personally to check up on me,” Jacobson said.
Gabriel liked to wear yellow Croc shoes.
“He was known around Rochester as the little bald kid with the bright yellow shoes,” his mother said.
His health was fairly good until he was three months shy of his third birthday. When Jacobson was giving him a lotion rubdown after a bath, she discovered what felt like “a hard-boiled egg under his left ribcage.”
Before the family heard the illness was terminal on Oct. 2, 2008, Gabriel enjoyed a good summer in Aberdeen.
During that summer, “He got to be a normal, happy kid,” Jacobson said.
The final 16 days, though, he became weak and had a lot of trouble breathing. “Every day, we had to watch him slowly go away from us,” Jacobson said.
Even now, Jacobson and Schriver become emotional when talking about Gabriel. Every day is still tough to get past, Schriver says.
“He was an amazing little guy. He just had a way about him,” Jacobson said.
He was fun and he had “something to say about everything,” she said. He had a “little boy voice” but had the vocabulary of an adult.
He was very observant, his parents said. “If a machine was beeping, he knew what button to push to fix it,” she said. He knew the hospital hallways better than his mother.
At the hospital, an adult patient undergoing chemotherapy felt sorry for himself, until he started talking with Gabriel.
“He found joy in everything,” and “was just a pleasure to be around,” Jacobson said.