A terminally ill Maine boy who spurred thousands of people around the world to send him homemade Christmas cards for his last holiday lost his battle with cancer on Sunday.
Jacob Thompson's family announced on Facebook early Monday that the 9-year-old died after a 4-year battle with neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that begins in nerve cells and generally affects infants and young children.
When doctors told Thompson's parents that their son might not live to see Christmas this year, his parents asked strangers to send Jacob homemade cards to help him celebrate the holidays early.
Their request then went viral.
"It's just amazing that one little boy has touched lives from all around the world," Michelle Simard, Jacob's mother, told necn.
At one point, Jacob received more than 10,000 pieces of mail in a day, according to a Maine Medical Center spokesperson.
His room at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital in Portland was also transformed into the North Pole, and when word spread that his favorite things were penguins and police officers, law enforcement from around New England responded with a procession of hundreds of police cruisers that started in Boston and ended at his hospital.
The Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut also helped with a Christmas surprise by giving Jacob a chance to hold a real penguin.
In a Facebook post announcing Jacob's death, his family thanked those who took the time out to send him a card or present for his last Christmas celebration.
His family also suggested to those who would like to donate in Jacob's honor to do so for Operation Gratitude, "to a penguin rescue group, or pay it forward in your community," including blood and platelets donations.
"Each and every person who sent Jacob a Christmas card, a gift, a Facebook message or video, or a prayer made a difference in the final days of his life," his family said in a statement. "You brought Jacob joy, and you brought us all optimism for the future."