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Cancer-stricken boy returns to rebuilt home after Sandy

Steven, 6, Juliana, 3, and Danielle Heckman, are

Steven, 6, Juliana, 3, and Danielle Heckman, are surprised as they walk into Steven's new room inside their newly remodeled home on James Rd. in Amityville. (Jan. 5, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

The family of a Leukemia-stricken Amityville boy who were left homeless by superstorm Sandy returned Saturday to find their home rebuilt -- free of charge -- by Long Islanders who were heartbroken by their struggle.

Without the volunteers' generosity, 6-year-old Steven Heckman could never live in the storm-ravaged home because mold would have threatened his cancer-weakened immune system.

But Saturday morning, the Heckmans came home from a Make-a-Wish Foundation trip to Disney World to witness the big reveal: four-and-a-half feet of stormwater gone, the home's foundation rebuilt, a new kitchen, and even an extra bedroom so Steven won't have to share with his two sisters.

"It's just really a miracle," Steven's mom, Danielle, 29, said, tears draping her cheeks. "We've had so many bad things going on in our life.

"I was so scared about not being able to come home -- and what I was going to tell my children," she said. "Not being able to cook a home-cooked meal or tuck my kids in to bed -- and to know that I'll be able to do that tonight is just so great. It's amazing."

The work was done by members of the local chapter of NARI, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Steven has acute lymphocytic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. He's being treated at Cohen Children's Medical Center at North Shore-LIJ, in New Hyde Park. He has two more years of chemotherapy, and his prognosis is good, his mom said.

Dozens of well-wishers gathered Saturday morning to greet the Heckmans, including Jack Kirkland, who works with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, a nonprofit clearinghouse for bone-marrow donors and recipients.

"There are a thousand stories out there about Sandy," said Kirkland, who's worked with the family for months. "But not only was their house lost, their son is going through chemotherapy treatments. He wouldn't be able to move back into a house with mold in it because of the constant risk of infection."

Steven doesn't need a transplant -- yet -- but in case he does, Kirkland said, he hopes people would be inspired to get tested to see if they'd be a match to help.

For his part, Steven relished his new room, decorated with a mural of his favorite character, Indiana Jones, and his name, both painted by local artist Debbie Viola of Massapequa Park. He beamed as he looked in his closet, stocked with Hot Wheels race cars, Transformers action figures, a whiffle-ball bat and lots of other toys. He raced around the tiny home, with friends and family in tow.

Standing on the doorstep, one of his sisters, 9-year-old Alexa, jiggled a keychain that the remodelers group had just given the family and tugged at her dad's coat.

"There's four keys!" Alexa said as Phillip Phillips' hit song "Home" played on speakers set up in the front yard. "I get one of them!"

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