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Quality of life at the end of life

Sarah’s Story


Accompanying Report: Teen Accepts His Terminal Illness, And Thousands Of Birthday Cards

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

MESA, Ariz. – Jacob Priestley’s young life will not be defined by his terminal illness.

Jacob Priestley reads birthday cards sent to him from people around the world

Jacob Priestley reads birthday cards sent to him from people around the world.

Jacob and his family say they have come to terms with the rare, life-threatening illness that has weakened his body. However, that hasn’t stopped them from living “in the moment.”

Next month, Jacob turns 14. All he is hoping for is birthday cards – lots of them. The Priestley family have made a public plea for people to send him as many cards as possible. Their goal: 10,000 by August 28. They just passed 3,000.

When he was four, Priestley was diagnosed with autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder. He was later diagnosed with mitochondrial disease; it has caused  weakness and a loss of muscle coordination, along with many respiratory and neurological problems.

His mother, Britney Priestley, spoke with Life Matters Media about her son’s illness, their outlook on life, and what it feels like to receive cards by the dozen.

Why so many cards?

He has autism, so he has never had friends, he has never had a birthday party where friends would come. Buying him birthday gifts has always been a hard thing – we never knew what to give to him.

Two years ago, I put out on Facebook that if anyone wanted to send him a card, he loves them. We got about 200 cards from friends and family, and we put them in a box and gave them to him for his birthday. I had never seen him so happy and excited. He would read through them and laugh – he was so excited, so happy they were addressed to him.

Last year, we wanted to do it again. The local news just happened to hear about it, so they came out and did a story. It exploded. It went “Arizona viral.” Everybody that we knew saw it everywhere. We got about 8,000 cards. It was incredible. It was perfect, he loved it so much.

This year, we wanted to go bigger and better, so he came up with the goal of 10,000. I said, ‘that’s a good number.’ We have about 3,200 right now.

What do people write in them?

Usually just a message – ‘keep going’ or ‘happy birthday’ or ‘you’re such an inspiration.’ We have gotten them from Germany, the U.K., Australia and China.

Why is this resonating with so many people?

He is such an inspiration to so many people because he has so many things to be upset about, but he just takes it with a smile.

He is happy, he never lets it get him down. You can see who he is despite being sick all the time and having a terminal illness. He is just so happy. It shows people that whatever they are dealing with, it is not that bad. You can always find something to be happy about.

You called his disease a terminal illness. You and your son seem to be accepting of the fact that he is facing a disease that will likely kill him.

We know that is his purpose. He was sent here with this terminal illness.

We do not let that define him. We do say that he has mitochondrial disease, and it is terminal. We do not sit there and dwell on the fact that he is going to die. We just live each day and each week like he is not going to have another one, because we don’t know. We really don’t know.


Birthday cards may be sent to the P.O. Box below:

Jacob Priestley
P.O. Box 855
Queen Creek, AZ 85142

– Image via Facebook