Boy with leukemia struggles to find bone marrow match after losing home to Hurricane Sandy

Losing their home in Amity Harbor, N.Y. to Hurricane Sandy was the second recent blow for Danielle Heckman and her family. In August 2011, Heckman’s middle child, 6-year-old Steven, was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia.


“I thought nothing could get worse after my son was diagnosed, and then to see this . . . the hardest part was going into their room; every toy we have ever gotten for them was gone,” Heckman told

Heckman said her family evacuated as quickly as possible. Before the storm even started, water was up to their front porch.

“I was scared the house was going to break,” Steven said.

As soon as the family returned home and realized they would be homeless, Heckman feared the worst.

“A shelter is not an option at all,” she said. “His immune system is suppressed, and with flu season going around…for Steven to be exposed to that, he’ll be back at the hospital.”

While the Heckmans are planning to rebuild their home, they still hope for something life-changing to happen.  For example, they are currently hoping to find a bone marrow match for Steven.

“To know that there is a match, that means my son will have an even greater chance of getting through this,” Heckman said.

Leukemia affects the blood and bone marrow, the spongy center of bones where blood cells are formed. It develops when those blood cells begin to grow out of control. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation kill diseased cells, but they also remove healthy ones – leaving the patient with a weakened immune system.

“In order to give the patient a new immune system, you need the bone marrow to come in from a matching donor,” said Katherina Harf of DKMS: Delete Blood Center.

Donations can be made in two ways: by peripheral blood stem cells, which is just like giving blood, or bone marrow can be extracted from the back of the pelvic bone using a special syringe.

“DKMS is the largest bone marrow center in the world, (and) our big dream is to provide a donor for every single patient in need,” Harf said.

The first step in helping to save a life is to register. Visit to learn how you can do this.

“A match for Steven would be a lifeline,” Harf said. “If he knows he can find a donor, then he knows that he would have that second chance.”

And that would mean Steven could have more years to do the things he loves – like “playing with toys (and his) two sisters.”

“I want him to grow up, go to college, get a really awesome job that he’s happy and proud of,” Heckman said. “Basically, have that fairytale ending.”

Additional reporting by Melissa Browne Weir.