This story is hard to process at times, because so many of us take for granted the lives we are so blessed with. A man named Gabe Marcelo was born with congenital heart defect that after several surgeries during his youth, was unable to actually be fixed. Due to those same surgeries, he also was illegible for a heart transplant. The defect made it so his heart had to work twice as hard to get oxygen into the blood stream. As he aged, his blood oxygen level would be at 92% when he was young, 88% in his teens, plummeting to 60% and lower as he moved through his adult life.
Naturally along with this came his inability to do much in this world physically, and such he turned to video games as a form of escapism, to do wonderful things, even running, that he simply could no longer do. One series that he got endeared too greatly was The Legend of Zelda. Vice did a nice piece detailing out his full story, but here are some key excerpts that paint a larger picture:
Games became even more important for the brothers when Jaime moved across the country to New York City about 10 years ago. To distract themselves from Gabe’s condition, they’d play games online with one another. Last summer, all they did was play Final Fantasy XIV.
But the Zelda series became a constant for Gabe, one of his touchstones. Breath of the Wild, his mother said, was a reason to live. If he could hold on for one more day, he might play it. That’s why his mother found herself writing letters to Nintendo and making phone calls, even if no one was responding. When Jaime visited the family last October, he overheard the plan to ask Nintendo for early access to the game. His first thought? Try posting the request online.
“I’ve witnessed the power of masses of people banding together to raise awareness,” he said, “either in person (à la protesting) or through online campaigns, so I figured if I could get some support online I would be able to get Gabe on Nintendo’s radar.”
The result was a reddit post to Nintendo fans, which was quickly upvoted. As the post exploded, the three were at a doctor’s appointment for Gabe. Jaime was in the waiting room, anxiously looking at his phone. He’d considered making a petition or Facebook page, but within a few hours, Nintendo’s social media team heard about Gabe and wanted to help.
The overwhelming support caused Gabe to burst into a mixture of tears and laughter. As more upvotes filtered in on reddit, he’d read the comments to his brother. The burst of positivity was a welcomed change of pace, too; at this point, Gabe’s condition was awful. He could only climb set of stairs once or twice a day, and his usually cheery disposition had become muted.
“I could tell things had gotten very bad for him,” said Jaime. “It was wonderful to have so many kind words of support and people relating their own experiences.”
“He always said, ‘Meh, it could be worse,'” said his mother. “He really would cling to that, all the while knowing he was getting worse.”
“I had my work cut out for me keeping him aware of the fact that he was battling something that was beyond his control,” said his mother. “His shame over his size was heartbreaking. His waist was sensitive and uncomfortable, so I needed to buy more and more jean shorts and long jeans in bigger sizes. His palliative [pain relief] care doctor tried to explain that the weight gain was medical in nature as the fluid built up from the heart failure. Gabe would still try to find a way to cut back on eating, though that happened naturally as he just could not eat as much.”
A few weeks after Nintendo reached out, Gabe and his mother made a trip to Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Seattle. Sporting a blue t-shirt with the words “Thank you Mr. Iwata,” he was given a chance to live out his dream and play Breath of the Wild, for a little more than 30 minutes. It was the same demo that’s been shown a million times, a constrained slice of the game’s open world. (Given Gabe’s physical limitations in the real-world, it was oddly fitting.) A group of Nintendo employees huddled around, cheering him on as he jumped, swam, and climbed up mountains. He even got into some mischief, lighting things on fire.
“He was, in that game, what he was not in life,” she said. “I could go out walking and Gabe could not join me. When I did, I thought about the fact that he could not get the benefit of fresh cool air and the freedom of just walking in our wooded neighborhood. When I saw the Zelda game, I realized that this was the wonderful world he wanted.”
“I could tell in his voice that he was filled with pure happiness,” said Jaime, “something that had become harder to attain as his condition worsened.”
That week is when Gabe put on 30 lbs in just seven days, and soon, couldn’t breathe on his own. As his body fell apart, he held onto a singular hope: a chance to stick around until Breath of the Wild came out, giving him another chance to join Zelda, Link, and Ganon on another adventure. His mother is confident Gabe wouldn’t have made it as long as he did without that.
“The night before he died, he called me into his room,” she said. “He wanted me to see the two-minute trailer he had downloaded. He teared up as the colors and sounds and snippets of action were coming across the screen. At the end, it said, ‘coming 3-3-17.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to make it!’ I really have to think about how happy he was, and not that he did not make it. I did remind him, that night, that he had already played Zelda… and yet I knew what he meant.”
On January 14, a few weeks after Gabe’s 27th birthday, he peacefully passed away.
“Someone mentioned that when I play Breath of the Wild, I won’t be alone,” he said. “Gabe will be my Navi, helping to guide me through the game the whole time. I really love that thought.”
“I have never known a stronger person,” said his mother. “If it had been his sheer will, he would still be here today.”
Be sure to check out the full piece to get a greater grasp of the whole ordeal. Gabe lived as long as he did holding out hope he’d make it to play Breath of the Wild. While he had his dream partially fulfilled in 2016, he just didn’t quite have enough left in him to make it March 3rd. However, until the bitter end, he held out that hope. The Breath of the Wild trailer from the January 12th Switch Event was likely the last thing Gabe saw before he was no longer with us.
Video games transcend mere entertainment, and this story goes to show you the emotional and even physical impact a game can have. A lot of people jokingly state they are “dying” waiting for something to come out. In the case of Gabe, he was literally dying. But he died happy. Our thoughts are with your family Gabe, and we hope you live on through Breath of the Wild.