Young cancer patient donates restaurant gift cards to hospitalized kids

Published: Dec. 28, 2020 at 2:21 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A preteen with a cancer diagnosis is unable to interact with other kids going through the same thing in the hospital due to the pandemic-- an already difficult and scary situation made worse. But as our Scott Fleishman shows you, this young man from Colchester is not looking at it as a loss. In fact, he’s paying it forward and hoping others will follow in his footsteps.

You truly never know how someone is going to react to bad news until they actually receive it.

“November 17th, 2019, will always be a day that we will never forget,” mom Hillary Laplante said.

That’s the day 12-year-old Jacob Laplante was diagnosed with leukemia. The news came just after his birthday and after Jake was experiencing body pains and a fever.

“I look up to him in so many different ways. Everything that he has had to go through, he has done it with a smile on his face almost 98 percent of the time,” Hillary said.

Not long after his diagnosis, Hillary started the Facebook group “Jacob Strong” to keep family and friends updated on his condition.

“I do like it. Most of the time it’s when we come back from treatment and my mom posts something. Having her read me off some of the comments that people have made that are just very nice and they just put a smile on my face and warms my heart,” Jacob said.

A GoFundMe page was also set up on Jacob’s behalf. Most of the money went into a personal account, but what Jacob did with the rest of the cash was quite delectable. He purchased restaurant gift cards for the other patients at Baird 5, the children’s inpatient unit.

The idea came when Jacob used previously donated gift cards for his meals since he didn’t enjoy eating the UVM Medical Center cuisine.

“He was like this shining little light that was glowing. He was so happy,” said Jennifer Dawson, one of the child life specialists at the UVM Medical Center.

Dawson got to know Jake pretty quickly at Baird 5 and was there the first time Jacob dropped off gift cards for the other patients.

“You could tell it’s almost magical for him to be able to feel like he’s giving back,” she said.

“It’s not just the kids, he wants to do something for the other families because it’s a struggle when you’re in the hospital. It’s uncomfortable and he just wants to make someone’s stay there just a little bit better, somehow, someway,” dad Chuck Laplante said.

Thanks to the Jacob Strong Facebook page and the kindness of friends within the community, like Jenn Foley, the fundraising for gift cards continues.

“We hadn’t thought about the fact that there’s so many families up there. So, it was like an a-ha moment where you’re like, wow, a 12-year-old just said I need to do something to give back instead of worrying about what’s going on themselves,” Foley said.

“I’m fortunate just to return the favor and then help another kid out that’s on that floor that’s in the same place, not wanting to eat that hospital food,” Jacob said.

Reporter Scott Fleishman: How important was it for you to do that?

Jacob Laplante: Very important. I’ve been very lucky to not have to feel as terrible as some kids I’ve heard about. Even from the beginning, it was my goal to give back to the hospital.

“He’s empathetic. Like he really sees what’s going on with kids around him and their families and how some families may or may not be able to stay with their children here or they may have different lifestyles and he’s really attuned to that. So, I think that’s something really special about Jacob,” Dawson said.

Jacob’s type of leukemia has a very good cure rate. He’s still taking chemo treatments and will be making hospital visits every month until 2022, but Jacob hopes what he’s doing for the other patients will continue on long after his visits are over.

Reporter Scott Fleishman: What do you want to see happen?

Jacob Laplante: I’d like to be an inspiration, to pass that on to a kid once I’ve donated back. Hopefully, another family will have the same idea and do the same kind of thing.

Dealing with the now by paying it forward, hoping it will continue into the future. Now that’s a healthy response.

The Jacob Strong Facebook Page is the best way to find out about fundraisers and other donation opportunities. Jacob has received gifts from Texas to Taiwan.

He’s hoping he will be healthy enough to head back to school next month.

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