LI boy aids bone-marrow drive with Yankees

Steven Heckman, 6, at his home in Amityville. Steven Heckman, 6, at his home in Amityville. Steven, who was diagnosed with Leukemia a year ago, was featured in a bone marrow drive during pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium. (July 31, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

advertisement | advertise on newsday

When 6-year-old Steven Heckman walked onto the field at Yankee Stadium for a pregame ceremony Saturday, he took a bottle of hand sanitizer with him.

Even a minor illness would be enough to send Steven, of Amityville, to the hospital. He has acute lymphocytic leukemia, and his test results last week were so bad that doctors temporarily halted his chemotherapy treatments.

"Technically, he wasn't supposed to come for the game," said Steven's mother, Danielle Heckman.

Heckman, 28, allowed him to attend only because, apart from the ceremony, he'd be ensconced in a private suite.

Shortly before the first pitch at 1 p.m., Steven rode an elevator down to field level and sat on the bench in the Yankees' dugout. Then he was allowed on the field, where he shook hands with first baseman Mark Teixeira.

"Mommy, I'm a celebrity!" he told his mother afterward.

Steven was the poster boy for an initiative by blood cancer nonprofit DKMS Americas and the Yankees aimed at raising awareness about the disease and signing up potential donors of bone marrow, which can be used in a lifesaving procedure to treat leukemia.

He took to the field with another boy, Jake Amato, 10, of Farmingdale, who received a bone-marrow transplant in 2010 and is now healthy.

"I didn't think he was going to make it," said Jake's father, Kenny Amato, 49. "He's still here. . . . The kid has his whole life ahead of him."

Some 4,100 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with leukemia each year, according to the American Cancer Society. Bone-marrow transplants are typically used when patients have exhausted other options, such as chemotherapy.

DKMS set up 20 stations at Saturday's game where fans could have their DNA collected with a cheek swab, and register as potential donors. The organization says it has signed up 3.6 million people worldwide, and more than 300,000 in the United States.

Steven and Jake's parents said they volunteered their children for the campaign -- which garnered over 2,000 registrations Saturday -- to help other kids in the same predicament.

"It's such an easy thing to do," Kenny Amato said. "Just get swabbed."

Since he got sick, Jake has met Teixeira and other baseball stars, like Josh Hamilton and Robinson Cano -- even Willie Mays.

Danielle Heckman would quickly give that up to be rid of Steven's disease.

"As cool as it is meeting all these celebrities . . . It's nowhere near as important as his health," she said. "These extra things that we do just keep him distracted from what he's going through."

You also may be interested in: