The Santoriella family learned quickly that life can change in an instant.
In June 2010, their son, Jake, was a hockey-playing second grader who loved to be on the ice. A week after a game in which he scored a hat trick, his mother noticed a rash on his back. The family monitored it but eventually went to a doctor and then a dermatologist, who took skin grafts.
That’s when everything changed.
“They said it was Leukemia rash,” said Robert Santoriella. “One week he scores a hat trick and the next week we’re talking about survival options.”
The next step was treatment, and the family learned Jake would need a bone marrow donor, which is a difficult task. Luckily, though, Jake’s twin brother, Chase, was a perfect match to help out his lifelong linemate.
“The odds were drastically against finding a match,” Robert said, “but his brother miraculously was a perfect match and he saved his brother’s life.”
“I was really happy,” Chase said of being able to help out his older brother by just a few minutes. “I was a little nervous because I’m afraid of needles, but I was willing to do whatever it took to get him back home.”
|TOP: Chase (left) and Jake (right) were flag kids at the Rangers' Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Oct. 22, 2015 (Photo by Scott Levy/ MSG Photos). ABOVE: Adam Graves visits with Jake and Chase. |
During the treatment, Jake and his family were visited by Rangers legends Adam Graves and Rod Gilbert, with the later forming a bond with Jake that lasts until this day.
“Rod Gilbert kind of adopted him. He came to him,” Robert said, adding that Jake would make YouTube videos to pass his time during his hospital stays, and Gilbert would visit and watch the videos with him and play in the playroom. He’d also share his own stories of his health issues he had earlier in life.
“He came into the playroom and we were screwing around and it was cool because he came just for me,” Jake said. “I thought that was amazing that he took out all his time and he was talking about how when he was in the hospital and it was a pretty amazing experience.”
Following an early visit, Robert recalled Gilbert telling the family that he’d have the entire Rangers team praying for them in the locker room at the team’s home game the next night.
Fast forward and Jake continues to be in remission. Throughout that time, though, the Santoriellas said Jake and Chase were never forgotten by Graves, Gilbert and the entire organization.
|Jake and Chase with Rangers legend Rod Gilbert |
“They never forgot Jake and Chase,” the father said, fighting back tears. “It’s been five years. [Wednesday] was our five-year anniversary of being in remission.
“As of [then],” he continued, “we’re five years cancer free and the Rangers never forgot about us.”
The family said Hockey Fights Cancer month holds a special place for them because it raises awareness for all types of cancers, which affect all types of people, no matter how old or young.
“I think the great part is that it’s not isolating one cancer,” Christina Santoriella said. “It’s a devastation. There is so much out there we can be doing.”
For Jake, it was the support of family, both his own and his Rangers family that got him through his dark days.
“There’s always a silver lining,” he said while strapping on his pads to take part in the Rangers’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night Thursday as a Flag Kid with his brother by his side. “It might be hard at times, but when your parents and family come, it makes it easier. Now that it’s all over with, it’s just amazing.”