FAIRFIELD — It’s rare for hockey goalkeepers to get hat-tricks. But in a sense, that’s what happened to Charlie Capalbo.
On Friday, the former goalkeeper returned to his home in Fairfield, now in remission for the third time in four years, or “the ultimate hat-trick” as those around him called it.
And while he still has some way to go to achieve full remission, he wasn’t alone as he embarked on the next leg of his recovery.
A crowd of an estimated hundreds paraded Friday afternoon from Jennings Beach along the road to Capalbo’s house, chanting his name, slapping hockey sticks on the sidewalk and cheering. Many wore hockey shirts with players from Fairfield, Fairfield Prep, St. Joseph’s and Fairfield University all visible among the “Capalbo Strong” and other hockey-related signs and clothing. A fire truck with a large American flag was parked outside.
“I was speechless,” said Capalbo outside his house, which was decked out with red, black, and silver balloons and streamers.
The parade came together in about four days. Susie Richards, a family friend, said it started when Capalbo’s mother, Jenny, asked if they could make a welcome banner for him.
“From there, it grew organically, as the whole community was eager to welcome him,” Richards said, as police, firefighters and a number of people in the community quickly jumped on board for the surprise.
“We want Charlie and the entire Capalbo family to realize how loved and supported they are by their community,” she said. “They have never forgotten the past 322 days. Just drive through town. There are sticks everywhere and they have been there since the day he went to the hospital on January 25, 2021.”
Charlie Capalbo said he started suspecting something was going on around 4 p.m., about half an hour before the parade started. He was sitting outside by a fire with some of his friends when several police cars drove by and people started showing up with hockey sticks.
His family was inside when they heard something and came out. Jenny Capalbo said they had suspected 15 or 20 people would meet them when they got home, but was “overwhelmed” by the turnout.
“This is how he got this far – with so much support,” she said.
Charlie Capalbo had just finished his high school hockey season in 2017 when he started experiencing prolonged flu-like symptoms. Doctors discovered a softball-sized tumor between his heart and lung.
At age 18, he was diagnosed with T lymphoblastic lymphoma and underwent intensive chemotherapy at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. He never returned to high school.
However, things were promising. He underwent extensive physical therapy, began to regain health, and moved to Fairfield University in 2018 as a freshman.
While there, he was treated with maintenance chemotherapy. However, in October 2018, new cancer cells were discovered in his spinal fluid — just four weeks into the school year. He was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital, where he received high-dose chemotherapy and eventually a bone marrow transplant, which his younger brother William gave that winter.
Jenny moved to Boston for the second battle with cancer and his father, Anthony, traveled back and forth from Fairfield every week.
After the bone marrow transplant, Charlie had to relearn to walk, feed himself, and other basic tasks. In November 2019 he had a festive holiday period and in January he returned to Fairfield University for the spring semester.
Then, a few months later, COVID struck and he, like so many of his classmates, returned home to finish the semester online.
In January, he received a third diagnosis and returned to Boston Children’s Hospital for treatment. But on October 30, day 280 of his hospital stay, Charlie shared some good news on his Instagram.
“Finally, against all odds, and despite far too many life-threatening complications to write here, my real brother saved my life again – my spinal fluid is free of leukemia cells!” He wrote. “I have one more way to get to full remission and get back to real life, but this was an incredible hurdle to overcome.”
Looking for that next step to start as soon as possible, he has scheduled his first physical therapy session with his uncle on Sunday.
“I feel great and am getting stronger every day,” he said Friday.
Right now he looks forward to sleeping in his own bed and sitting by the light at the top of South Benson Road, overlooking all the shops and aspects of everyday life that he has been missing out on for most of his life. year.
He said sitting in a regular chair with the family’s four dogs jumping on him was exactly what he needed on his return. His own dog, George, a four-year-old French bulldog, was by his side during the initial treatment, but they were told not to even try to sneak him in during this time. Instead, he would see him at the Boston roundabout a few times, but it wasn’t the same.
Jenny Capalbo said people from every aspect of their lives were there to welcome them home Friday, including nurses, friends, family, the hockey community, her sons’ current and former classmates, as well as strangers.
“It’s really great,” she said.
Among the supporters was John Vallillo, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe and one of the captains of the hockey team both Capalbo boys played for.
As a freshman, Vallillo played with Will Capalbo — then a senior — who he said was a great mentor to him. Vallillo said the team decided to support the Capalbos.
“They’re such wonderful people,” Vallillo said. “They’ve fought a battle that hasn’t gone away, but they’ve endured.”
He said it’s nice to be there for them and for the hockey community to rally around them. The team, and rivals Fairfield Prep, ran together in their mix of red jerseys.
“It just shows you how hockey is bigger than a sport,” Vallillo said. “It’s a family.”
During the event, Richards spoke fondly of each family member.
“Charlie, you face each day with positivity and humor,” she said. “You laugh through the pain.”
She said he and his family have in turn given a gift to the community.
“You have given us a beautiful reminder of hope,” she said. “If you believe in yourself and never give up, miracles happen.”
The parade is just one way the community has gathered around the Capalbo family.
“Given the enormous costs of the past nearly five years and the fact that his parents have had to quit their jobs for much of that time, we started a GoFundMe site for the family,” said John McCormick, a family friend. and one of the organizers.
Nearly $468,000 has been raised on GoFundMe since the campaign first began several years ago to help cover the family’s medical and living expenses, including food and travel to and from Boston.
Charlie Capalbo said he is extremely grateful for all the support the community has shown, not just with the parade, but over the years.
“We are eternally grateful and I don’t really know how to express it,” he said.