MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Jacob “Jake” Alfonso Santoriella of Mahopac passed away on June 26 at the age of 16 after a fierce eight-year battle with AML leukemia.
According to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer research charity with which his family was active, Jake was first diagnosed when he was 8-years-old, and after being in remission for six years, he relapsed.
During treatment, transplant, remission, side effects and relapse, Jake fought to be a “normal” kid and often said, “I don’t want to be ‘that’ kid.”
The statement released by St. Baldrick’s Foundation called Jake “a great kid, an exceptional young man, a loving son, brother and friend and a true warrior.”
“Jake the Snake,” as he was often lovingly referred to as, was a sophomore at Mahopac High School and enjoyed ice hockey, cheering for the N.Y. Rangers, and re-watching “Star Wars” in his spare time. He was an avid collector of many things, especially Pokémon cards. One of his favorite pastimes was playing video games and going to the movies with his friends. He always made sure the people close to him knew he loved them.
He will be remembered for his magnetic personality, contagious laugh, and genuine spirit that brightened every room.
Jake’s father, Robert Santoriella said on Facebook that his son passed shortly before 5 p.m. quietly, in his sleep and was surrounded by his two best friends (Matt and Joe), his fraternal twin brother, Chase, his mom and family members. When Jake was 10, Chase provided a bone marrow transplant, which helped extend Jake’s life.
“Last night his two favorite nurses here at [Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center] were on staff and as usual they cared for Jake like he was their own son and when he said he was scared they give him comforting hugs and told him they love him, and he told them he loved them too,” his father wrote. “I received a call…this morning that Jake’s breathing was very irregular. I immediately went to get Chase who had already contacted Matt and Joe and by 1 a.m. I was on my way to Memorial with the three greatest men in the world as far as I’m concerned. Also, on route to Memorial in his own car was my dad and by 3 a.m., Matt, Chase and Joe were in Jake’s room playing Fortnight video games and trying to keep Jake calm and his mind off his worst fears.”
Santoriella wrote that seeing everyone in his room at 3 a.m. made Jake worry even more and he kept making them promise that they weren’t there to say their last goodbyes.
“He refused to put his head down on his pillow in fear that he would never see us again, but these guys, his brother and his friends, they are the real deal,” Santoriella wrote. “I went downstairs at one point to make a phone call and they had Jake completely covered; if they saw him struggling with something like the oxygen tube in his nostril that slides out, they grab the closest nurse and drag her in. So, with those men surrounding him Jake closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep knowing these dudes were there with him by his side along with my dad, his mom and me.
“So, from 6 a.m. until just before 5 p.m. he slept and had wonderful visitors all day long from friends and family who love him so much, talking to him and holding his hand while he slept,” he continued. “That was only seven hours ago and already I have to say I miss my boy, ‘Jake the Snake,’ more than words could ever possibly describe here on this page. There was just so much left for us to do.”
Gia Fenty, a schoolmate of Jake, said she was stunned at his passing.
“Jake was such a great person,” she wrote on Joseph J. Smith Funeral Home’s memorial page. “He was such a great, funny, hard-working and strong person. I never thought something would happen to him. I will forever miss him. I send my prayers to his family.”
Family friend Gina Romero wrote that she was “distraught” over Jake’s passing.
“We are honored to have known such a wonderful young man.,” she wrote on the memorial page. “He was courageous throughout his long battle.”
A Mass of Christian Burial was held June 30 at St. John’s the Evangelist Church in Mahopac and internment followed at Gates of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y.