Amityville boy, 6, focus of Yankees bone marrow drive
Six-year-old Steven Heckman of Amityville faces more than two years of chemotherapy to treat his blood cancer. That's if things go well.
If he relapses, Steven could need a bone-marrow transplant -- and he doesn't know if he will have a matching donor.
"He tells me he's scared," said his mother, Danielle Heckman, 28. "He asks me all the time, 'Am I going to need that?' "
Steven Heckman's plight has become the focal point for an effort at Saturday's New York Yankees game to sign up 5,000 people as new bone marrow donors -- and raise awareness about blood cancer.
Nonprofit DKMS, one of the world's largest bone marrow donor search groups, is teaming with the baseball club for the initiative, which will include 20 stations scattered throughout Yankee Stadium where potential bone marrow donors can have their DNA collected with a cheek swab. They will also give away 50,000 red hats -- to symbolize the fight against blood cancer -- and have a pregame home plate ceremony with Steven and a Yankees player.
"It's just so unfair that he has to go through what he has to go through," said DKMS co-founder Katharina Harf. "This is the only way that people relate."
Steven was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia last summer, and after a year of chemotherapy, he faces continued treatment through November 2014.
Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, accounting for one of every three cases, and some 4,100 a year nationwide, among children under age 15.
Steven would only need a transplant if things worsen. But after one of Steven's friends died when a matching bone marrow donor could not be found, Danielle Heckman wanted to leave nothing to chance. So she volunteered to work for DKMS, first running a donor registration drive at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach over Memorial Day weekend, then agreeing to let the organization use Steven's story for its campaign at the Yankees game.
"I just kind of look at him as being an advocate," Danielle Heckman said. "He may not ever need a transplant, but other people do."
DKMS was founded in Germany in 1991 after Harf's mother, who was suffering from leukemia, struggled to find a suitable match for a transplant.
The charity has since signed up 3.6 million potential donors worldwide, including more than 300,000 in the United States, which trails Germany in the size of its donor registry in proportion to its population.
"Each year, 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, but only half receive one," said Dr. Ruthee-Lu Bayer, who runs the stem cell transplant program at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. "You want more people in the registry."
The Yankees signed on for the initiative after a winter meeting with DKMS, according to Debbie Tymon, the team's vice president for marketing.
She said one of the things that makes the promotion special will be the color of the hats -- red is not typically a welcome hue in Yankee Stadium.
"You might say that's not an item we ever would have considered for any other reason," Tymon said. "That's what makes the message so powerful."