LEOMINSTER — On and off the field, Jacob Paskell’s heart has always been in the right place, and with his recent diagnosis of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the community’s heart is now right by his side.
At the young age of 16, Jake is already well-known as a devoted and talented Leominster athlete, spending much of his time on the baseball and football fields, however, that time has been put on hold since Jake was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Jake was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Oct. 26, 2021,” said his mother, Lisa Paskell. “He had been feeling sick for a couple weeks prior. It started out as a cold, so we thought. He really struggled to feel better, missed a lot of school and could not play football because he couldn’t catch his breath.”
Several doctor’s appointments later, the Paskell’s were told it was a viral infection, however on the morning of Oct. 20, he could not take in a full breath.
Lisa Paskell called the doctor and they saw him a little later that day.
“They finally did a ton of labs and a chest” exam, she said. “He went home and rested. The next morning, the doctor called me and said to get him to UMass Worcester immediately. His platelets were down in the 20s, and he was having abnormal bruising. He was presenting with the same symptoms as mononucleosis, so it was between that and leukemia.”
Jake was admitted to UMass Worcester that evening. It took five days of waiting in the hospital to get the diagnosis.
“That day changed our entire family, not just our immediate little family but all of our family and friends,” Lisa Paskell said. “It was such a shock and never something you would expect to happen to your child.”
While Jake was in the hospital, the Paskell family was visited by so many people such as social workers, child life specialists, and many more organizations.
“We learned about the Make A Wish Foundation during that time,” said Lisa Paskell. “It took a while for Jake to decide what he wanted to wish for. He thought for a long time and then decided that he wanted to go to the MLB All-Star Week in Los Angeles, Calif., something he has been dreaming about since he was little — wanting to see a game at Dodgers Stadium.”
On May 19, the Make-A-Wish Foundation invited Jake to a Boston Red Sox game and his wish came true.
“He had no idea, he thought he was just going to the game because the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave us tickets,” said Lisa Paskell. “It was the best day as he met one of his favorite players, Alex Verdugo.”
While in Los Angeles, the plan is to see the Homerun Derby, the Celebrity Softball Game, the Prospect’s Game, and of course the All-Star Game.
“Jake absolutely loves to play baseball, go to baseball, everything baseball,” Lisa Paskell added. “So, this is just a dream come true for him.”
Having support from not only family, but friends, sports groups, coaches and the community, Lisa Paskell says, “has just been amazing.”
“We had family taking care of our home, and our dog while we were taking care of Jake. We had our very special best friends set up a GoFundMe page and a meal train for us. We had family handing us envelopes with cash and gift cards for food and gas, but one of the biggest forms of support has been people offering to just be there for us,” she said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jake could not have visitors at the hospital and his friends and teammates showed up outside the hospital with posters wishing him well.
“When he turned 16 this past March, we secretly planned a drive-by parade for him, with about 100 people driving by honking with signs and showing so much love and support,” said Lisa Paskell. “It is things like this that have kept his spirits up.”
With a recent GoFundMe page, set up by family friend Glenn Casey, that has raised over $13,000, the community is now rallying around the Paskell family with the “Father’s Day Tournament for Jacob” baseball tournament planned for this weekend at the Leominster American Little League Field, on 12th Street.
The tournament will begin at 5 p.m. Friday, with games being played Saturday beginning at 2 p.m., followed by championship games at 2 p.m. Sunday.
All proceeds from raffles (including Boston Red Sox tickets) and concession sales will be going directly to the Paskell family.
“Jacob is not just another kid, he is our kid,” said Rob Lora, president of the Leominster American Little League. “He is a Leominster American. I have watched him grow from t-ball up and had the pleasure to have coached him. He is one of mine and always will be.”
Leominster American Little League also held a sweatshirt fundraiser a few weeks ago, selling new sweatshirts with Jacob’s signature #99 on them. The league raised $500 which was given directly to Jacob to spend on his trip to the All-Star Game festivities.
“We are hosting this tournament to raise funds to provide Jacob and his family with anything they need,” said Lora. “We look forward to watching some exciting Little League baseball and playing in honor of him on his home diamond and bringing home the championship.”
Casey agrees with Lora, that with the rising cost of gas and medical bills, they were more than happy to help the Paskell family.
“With Lisa and Domingo by his side through it all, I thought it was important to help lessen the burden of whatever financial obligations may come their way,” said Casey, who is also organizing the baseball tournament. “He is still in the thick of it when it comes to his cancer journey. Still heading into Worcester multiple days a week for appointments and continued medical bills — all these things add up.”
Lisa Paskell says her family is extremely grateful for all the donations.
“It has allowed us to take the time off from work that we needed beyond what the state allows,” she said. “I was able stay out of work an extra month with Jake and have been able to cut my work hours to be able to take Jake back and forth to Worcester during the week. I have been able to stay with Jake during inpatient treatments, without worry and we have been able to get him the extra medical supplies needed that were not covered under his insurance.”
Lisa Paskell says even though Jake does not like to be the center of attention, he would like to personally thank everyone for all the support he has received.
“It has helped him to keep on going with this journey,” she said. “It really makes you realize that the little things in life that you worry about, really do not matter.”
A quote on the GoFundMe page seems to sum up Jake perfectly.
“Some of you may know him by Juice, Paskell, Big Sexy or even just Jake, but for anyone who knows this kid, they know how much of a witty, funny, teddy bear type guy he is and that we all love him,” said Casey. “Life is still moving forward, and Jake is taking this battle head on and doing so with such an inspirational outlook.”
To make a donation, visit https://bit.ly/3mVUK1q, or visit the American Little League field this weekend.