SHEPHERDSTOWN – Gabriel Lee, 7, is a freshman from Gerrardstown Elementary School who is full of energy and curiosity.
His all-time favorite movie is “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” and recently Shepherd students fulfilled his desire to visit New York City during the holiday season for an experience like the adventures the protagonist, Kevin McCallister, had in the movie.
Lee and his family visited New York the week before Christmas, and he said he “loved” the experiences he had recently had in New York City.
Lee got the trip as part of Make-A-Wish after Shepherd University announced its campaign to make Lee’s wish come true. Lee was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a birth defect that affects normal bladder flow through the heart.
“It essentially means that the left side of his heart hasn’t formed,” Lee’s mother, Morgan, said in a press release earlier. “You can survive with one pump room, but to do that they have to do a three-phase reconstructive surgery. They’re essentially creating a new room, so they’re changing their entire anatomy.”
Lee’s three surgeries took place when he was 6 days old, 8 months old and 3 years old. After the third operation, Morgan Lee said the doctor gave her son a pacemaker on which he is 100% dependent.
Danielle Stephenson, a graduate student community service assistant, said Lee is often on campus because he is officially part of that blue-and-gold family.
“Seeing and hearing about Gabe after this trip is one of the greatest things about it all,” Stephenson said.
Gabe said he enjoyed New York and shared some of his favorite parts of the trip to the big city. Just like in the movie, Gabe even got a surprise visit with room service.
“When we stayed at The Plaza, they brought the ‘Home Alone’ ice cream,” explains Morgan Lee. “The 13 scoops of ice cream in the huge bowl.”
With snow on the ground and fake snow in the toy store he went to, Gabe got to make a remote-controlled race car and a stuffed animal Pikachu named Biscuit.
“Every day was a crazy adventure that we couldn’t have done. We were picked up in a limousine with a large cheese pizza and hung out the window as we drove through New York City,” Morgan said. They loved staying in The Plaza, they had seen that in the movie. They jumped on the bed and ate the ice cream and pizza like they did in the movie.”
Morgan described the experience as “amazing” and something that created a plethora of memories that will help them through difficult times.
“He loved to skate at Rockefeller Center. To be there and see it all lit up and being in the middle of it was amazing,” she said. “As a 7-year-old, he may not understand that this was something that not everyone could do. We have not missed that. We now have those memories of these things that they would not otherwise experience.”
Because Shepherd students were able to fulfill Gabe’s wish so quickly, they have adopted a second child and are working to raise enough money to fulfill her wish.
Shelby Maly, coordinator for student affairs, social media and special initiatives, said the next child is a young local girl in the border triangle. Her wish is to have her basement redone.
“Once we meet her, we can introduce her to the campus. We hope to raise the $4,400 again,” Maly said. “I think my favorite part of it all is the genuine joy we see from our (Make-A-Wish) children and their families. It can take a while for a child to get his wish, so it’s a matter of timing. We have been lucky enough to have two great families to work with so far.”
Anyone interested in donating can do so through the Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia website under the Wishmakers on Campus page.
Maly and Stephenson also reported that there will be a fundraiser at Chipotle in Martinsburg on March 26 from 4-8pm to benefit all Wishmakers.
For more information, visit www.wish.org/wishmakers-on-campus