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All Saints parishioner is grateful for prayerful support

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“Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live.” That was the responsorial psalm that greeted David Jacobeen when he returned to the Sunday morning Mass he’s attended at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas since 1989. It wasn’t only the words of the Bible that seemed to speak directly to him. Father Lee R. Roos, pastor, was too.

“When David got better, the first Mass he went to he was in a wheelchair and Father Roos announced (he was there) and literally the people all clapped,” said David’s wife, Maria. “After Mass (Father Roos) said, ‘I got the whole church to pray for you.’ ”

The 59-year-old believes it was prayer that carried him through a coma, intestinal surgery and chemotherapy. Prayer helped him as he learned to walk again and prayer accompanied him as, months after his health crisis, he became cancer free.

David’s problems began in May with what he thought was a cold. When he started losing his voice, he went to the doctor, who said he didn’t have strep or the flu. But things kept getting worse.  

When he eventually went to the emergency room, he and his family didn’t worry. He was sure it would be fine if his wife, a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional School in Woodbridge, left to see her students receive their first holy Communion. But when she returned, he was in critical care. Their son Ben pulled Father Roos out of the parish picnic to perform the anointing of the sick.  

Over the few days he was at Prince William Hospital, David’s liver and kidneys began to shut down and he became less and less responsive, said Ben. They decided to move him to Inova Fairfax Hospital, where he received plasmapheresis to clean his blood. While in a coma, his fever spiked so high they had to put him in an ice suit. The doctors said he would need surgery if there was any chance for his survival.

When he was under the knife, doctors found a tumor in part of his intestine, which once removed exploded in the surgeon’s hand. “That’s (a) miracle. If it had been in there much longer and exploded in me, I probably wouldn’t have survived,” said David. In the midst of all the tests, David was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. “Eighty-five percent of the cells were cancerous,” he said. “(The) doctor told us the way (the cancer) was so aggressive, he probably won’t be here in four months,” said Maria.  

As the doctors worked to heal her husband, Maria turned to David’s patron, St. Joseph. “When he got sick, we all said we’ll do a novena to St. Joseph. I put it on social media and every teacher in my school was going to the library every morning and praying the novena. All of our relatives and so many people from our church were doing the novena,” she said. One day, she was in the hospital when her former teaching assistant brought her a shawl. Though her friend knew nothing about the novena, she told Maria that the woman who kitted the shawl wanted her to pray to St. Joseph. “I said, I guess this is the man,” said Maria.

The support continued to pour in. Their family was being prayed for by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, who staff St. Thomas Aquinas, the Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, where Maria used to work at Linton Hall, the Youth Apostles, of which Ben is a member, by Inova Fairfax Hospital Chaplain Father Stefan Starzynski and by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, at the request of Father Roos.

Back at school, Maria’s students made a banner with the message “Get Well Soon.” People from the school community delivered food twice a week. “(My students) would send these prayer cards and when he was unconscious, I would read these little cards,” Maria said. David’s boss and coworkers showed their support by mowing the lawn.

Family members, old neighbors and friends from the parish came to visit him in the hospital. Even strangers prayed for him, said Maria. “There was a lady that was cleaning the room and she saw us praying the rosary, but she could only speak Spanish and she said, ‘I pray, I pray.’ Then at night she put a glow-in-the-dark rosary in his room and she’d point to it.”

But life still went on for David’s family as they waited for him to recover. Ben barely had time to visit his father as he completed intensive firefighting training for Fairfax County. “For me, it was one of the more physically and emotionally taxing things I’ve ever had to do,” he said. “I’m texting my mom and my brother pretty much anytime I had a quick break in the locker room, asking what’s going on, how is he doing, what’s new?” When he had time, Ben would bring his guitar to his father’s hospital room and play his favorite songs.

His brother Jonathon and his fiancee Alissa spent as much time as they could at David’s bedside, until they left for their wedding in Pennsylvania. David’s sister-in-law stayed behind to be with him. They livestreamed the ceremony to the hospital room and though David was in and out of consciousness, he was awake to see his son and daughter-in-law exchange their vows.

For about two months, David lay in a hospital bed. After he was released, his family was able to secure him a spot at an acute rehabilitation center where he learned to walk again. Well-wishers and prayer warriors followed him there.

“There was a group of people who would come by after they were done with their shift and pray with him,” said Maria. The chaplains at the facility all spent time with him, too. “It was just a blessing to have all these people coming,” said David.

He left the rehab center in July and began receiving chemotherapy immediately after. He kept himself motivated by making goals — to get out of a wheelchair, to use a walker, to use a cane, to walk upstairs and sleep in his own bed. “I was really shocking the physical therapy people with how quickly I was recovering,” he said. By the time they wanted him to work on climbing stairs, he already had. “It’s too late, ” he said, laughing. Today, he takes long walks with his newly adopted dog, Sundae. After months of chemotherapy, he is now in remission and is a candidate for a bone marrow transplant in the new year.

David believes his illness has made him more grateful and more able to see the good in his everyday life. “For me it’s day to day and hour by hour, I might have something that’s negative but there’s a positive behind it. You look at it from a different perspective,” he said. “Being I was so sick, I got all the high end doctors who got all the trouble cases. I had the right people at the right time, and that’s God’s working.”

Through it all, David was able to see the impact his life has made, especially at his parish, where he’s been involved with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Youth Organization sports, youth group, the safety and security committee and Ben’s favorite — dressing as a clown for the parish festival.

“You never really know how well you’re loved until something like that happens,” said Maria.

David is giving back after his illness by becoming a mentor to other patients in rehab and by training Sundae to become a therapy dog. He also wants to tell people how God was with him in his sickness and his recovery. “Right now I feel like God has a new plan for me, and I think some of the plan is to be able to tell my story, and hopefully that will help people in similar scenarios.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019