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How family and friends are honoring the legacy of AJ Capelli, MD

Last year, Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care joined together to create Advocate Aurora Health, the 10th largest not-for-profit health system in the country. Your generosity will continue to make health care more accessible and compassionate for each person we serve. Here, we’re sharing stories about people, just like you, who are making a difference.

James Santarelli, MD, is an Aurora Family Practice physician in Kenosha. Not only was AJ Capelli, MD, his cousin, he was also a great mentor. Dr. Santarelli did all his primary care rotations with Dr. Capelli and started practicing medicine with him in 1996.

James Santarelli, MD (left), with AJ Capelli, MD

“He really exemplified what it meant to be a family practice physician,” Dr. Santarelli shared. “He would care for entire families, do home visits and he took care of people from birth until death. People just loved him.”

So, it was an incredible shock to the Kenosha community when Dr. Capelli passed suddenly in 2017 at the age of 68.

“He made people feel comfortable in their most uncomfortable time; it was such a rare trait,” Dr. Santarelli explained. “This community really needed a way to express its gratitude for that.”

“When you were with him, he was so present,” said Carol Johnson, MSN, MHA, RN, director for palliative and hospice home care for Aurora at Home.

Carol knew Dr. Capelli because of his work with Aurora’s palliative and hospice care programs. It’s an area he was particularly passionate about. That’s why friends and colleagues created the Dr. Alfred John Capelli Hospice and Palliative Care Fund. It’s a way to honor Dr. Capelli and the care he so deeply appreciated.

“People think hospice is about death, but death is a fleeting moment. We want to bring dignity to every moment and keep the focus on living,” Carol said.

Some of the funds will be used to enhance grief support services for those who lost a loved one.

Philanthropy can help us provide a variety of options for those in the grieving process,” explained Kristi Barfield, manager of home health services. “It could be group counseling, spiritual grief support, art therapy. This would enable us to meet people where they’re at.”

Bringing more life and humanity to end-of-life care— what a way to honor someone who truly knew how to live.

“Not many people in life get to leave a legacy as big as AJ did,” Dr. Santarelli shared. “He was always bigger than life and always will be.”

If you would like to support the Dr. Alfred John Capelli Hospice and Palliative Care Fund, contact Erin Hareng at Erin.Hareng@aurora.org.