The Warmth of Friendship, On and Off the Ice

For many parents of kids living with serious illness and disability, the future is full of questions and uncertainty. But that future is also full of incredible support and beautiful friendships that help guide through the unknown.

Lindsay DiStefano and Julie Creedon-Linton first met a few years ago in a social media group for families with children navigating the challenges of immunodeficiencies. Julie’s son Bryce has recently been diagnosed with immune dysfunction, and she turned to a Facebook group to help answer some questions her family had navigating their new diagnosis. Lindsay, whose sons William and Luke have a similar condition, happily shared her family’s experience. The moms found camaraderie and understanding in their shared experiences, and a friendship was quickly formed. Not long after, the DiStefano and Linton families crossed paths at Boston Children’s Hospital, where all three boys are treated. Much like their moms, the boys became quick friends, enjoying moments of distraction, connection, and a shared love of ice hockey. “Our initial visits were in the hospital garden or cafeteria, but eventually, we were able to have Bryce join us to play outside together on the Harvard Medical School lawn,” shared Lindsay. “These brief encounters brought welcomed distractions, friendship, and commiseration at a time we both needed the support.”

In addition to their similar medical journeys and the connection they’ve made in the hospital, the boys, who now play for the same youth hockey organization, the Worcester Junior Railers, have always been connected through sports. Bryce, Will, and Luke will have the special bond of understanding since they are all going through similar experiences,” said Julie.

In the fall of 2022, Will and Luke were matched with the University of Connecticut (UConn) men’s hockey team and quickly shared their positive experience with their friend Bryce, who was matched with the Holy Cross men’s hockey team the following year. “The DiStefano family were the ones who told me to get my boys involved with Team IMPACT,” Julie shared. Soon enough, Bryce and his brother Brodie had a team of their own, just like Will and Luke’s, who also share their Team IMPACT experience with their older brother, Jack. “Bryce was still in isolation when I made the first call. Once we were matched with Holy Cross Hockey, the kids were over the moon. Right away, we felt like the boys were part of the team.”

Both families have had their own unique and life-changing journeys with their teams. Will, Luke, and Jack love playing flag football, celebrating birthdays, and just being part of the team with their Huskies. Some of Bryce and Brodie’s favorite moments with the Crusaders include team dinners, carving pumpkins, knee hockey games, and seeing their teammates cheer them on from the sideline at their own sporting events, just as they do at Holy Cross hockey games.

“There are many parts of our boys’ lives that they hear they can’t. They can’t swim in fresh water, they can’t go to a variety of events or school because of treatment or they’re not feeling well, they can’t go to their state championship tournament because they’re in the hospital. Team IMPACT gives them a chance to ‘can,’” Lindsay shared. “Kids their age often cannot understand at all what the boys are dealing with, but the hockey team gets it. They understand how the boys may not feel well but still want to play and compete and have fun. We can tell the hockey team is a safe place for them, where they are willing to try new things and be themselves.”

The Lintons have noticed similar grown in Brodie and Bryce, who have gained confidence and come out of their shells around their teammates. “The encouragement, acknowledgement and support from the players has truly been shown in the boys being more confident and more mature,” Julie said. “The players don’t let Bryce get away with his behavior, they expect more from him and he responds.”

Recently, the DiStefanos and Lintons got together for another opportunity they wanted to experience together: the UConn vs Holy Cross men’s hockey series. Luke, Will, and Jack traveled to Hart Center Rink in Worcester to join Bryce and Brodie at their home arena for the Friday game of the series. The following day, Bryce and Brodie made the trip to the Huskies’ Toscano Family Ice Forum, the DiStefano brothers’ home ice.

Team IMPACT provided both families with not only an extended network of support in their teams, but also with an experience outside the medical world. “Getting to spend time with the DiStefano brothers was one of our favorite moments,” Julie said, reflecting back on that exciting weekend. “We were able to learn about what they get to do with their team, who their favorite players are, and just be kids cheering on their favorite teams.”

“The game didn’t go as planned for UConn, but we all found ourselves happy for the Lintons and the Holy Cross team,” Lindsay shared. “The boys saw several of the Holy Cross and UConn players talk to each other after the game and realized that they, too, knew the ‘opponent’ and were able to be friends again after the game was over.”

When asked how their boys have changed since joining Team IMPACT, both moms had the same response: smiles. “More smiles,” Julie said. “On hard days—whether it’s a long day of appointments, labs, treatments—we remind the boys of the next time they get to be with the hockey team. This greatly helps them stay positive and look forward instead of wallowing in the present.”

The kids are always smiling and laughing when the players are around,” Julie shared of Bryce and Brodie’s time with the team.

The DiStefano and Linton families serve as an example of the warmth and friendship that come from team—on and off the ice. We look forward to another season of competition, fun, and most importantly, smiles.