Gabrielle Keiran Dreistadt

Age 12: Honor student worked with animals, volunteered at Fulton church.

June 11, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

Gabrielle Keiran Dreistadt, a Wilde Lake Middle School honor student who worked with abused animals and through her church assisted senior citizens and others who needed a spare hand, died of aplastic anemia Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Columbia resident was 12.

Gabrielle, who was born and raised in Columbia, was diagnosed in March with the disease that took her life. Aplastic anemia occurs when bone marrow fails to produce sufficient blood cells.

"She was a strong and healthy girl who suddenly got sick," said her mother, Holly Anne Conti of Columbia.

Gabrielle, a sixth-grader, was popular with students and teachers.

"She was a great kid and a dream student. She was hard-working, cheerful, friendly and worked well with the other students. I could put her into any group of students and she was fine," said Rebecca J. Feldwick, who teaches reading at Wilde Lake Middle.

"She was an advocate for students who needed help. She'd come to me and say, 'So and so needs a little extra help,' " Mrs. Feldwick said.

Gabrielle, who had a voracious appetite for reading, was always asking Mrs. Feldwick for book suggestions.

She added: "I only wish that I could have had a hundred students like Gabrielle. I was so blessed to have had her as a student."

Gabrielle learned and enjoyed playing alto saxophone.

"She also enjoyed writing music, ceramics and making jewelry," her mother said. "She also loved cats and especially her cat Stormy."

She attended church regularly with her mother at Grace Community Church in Fulton, where she was an active youth group member, enjoyed Bible study and participated in community outreach projects.

"Gabrielle was an incredible gift to us all. She had a smile that would knock you over, and when she walked into a room, the place would light up," said the Rev. Shaun Smithson, the church's pastor.

"She'd join other members of the youth group in baking cookies for members of the Fire Department. They'd go to a local grocery store and put all the carts back or help a senior citizen carry their grocery bags," Mr. Smithson said.

Gabrielle also volunteered with Day's End, an organization in western Howard County that cares for abused and injured horses, her mother said.

Joanna F. Grabau was one of the leaders of Gabrielle's Bible study group at her church.

"She was humble and kind and had the ability to make those around her feel good," Ms. Grabau said.

Lauren N. Barkley, who also teaches Bible study at Grace, is a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Gabrielle wasn't my patient, but I'd go and visit. One day after she had been in the hospital for two months, she said, 'This really stinks.' Can you imagine all she'd been through and that's all she could say?" Miss Barkley said.

"She had incredible courage. I never, ever heard her complain about what was going on," she said.

Gabrielle had traveled to California with her father, Mark Dreistadt of Columbia, who also had taken her on a visit to Ireland for spring break this year.

Joanna M. Tanner, who teaches geography at Wilde Lake Middle, was one of her favorite teachers.

"I've been crying for days. She was one of the sweetest students I've ever taught," Mrs. Tanner said.

"We bonded over our Irish heritage, and she had done a cultural project on Ireland for our class. She was so happy that she was going to Ireland for break, and we looked forward to hearing her talk about her trip. Of course, she never made it back to our classroom."

Services will be held at 2:30 p.m. today at her church, 8200 Old Columbia Road.

In addition to her parents, Gabrielle is survived by a brother, Alex Dreistadt; a half-sister, Rhiannon Reichenbach of Sunbury, Pa; her maternal grandparents, Richard and Clara Conti of Pittsburgh; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

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