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Rockville Centre 5-year-old leukemia survivor gets car parade to celebrate final procedure


After three years of chemotherapy treatments and spinal taps for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, 5-year-old Aiden Schaefer, of Rockville Centre, completed his final procedure on March 25.

It was a day that his parents, Denise and Patrick, were looking forward to for a while. They’d planned to bring cupcakes to thank the nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Aiden would give high-fives to all of them, one last time. And Aiden’s twin brother, Mason, would give him kisses at the elevator and say, “I’ll make your booboo better,” like he always did. The family would go out to dinner and have a gathering with close friends and family to celebrate.

But all that was squashed due to coronavirus restrictions. Aiden was allowed only one parent with him for his last treatment, so it was just Denise and Aiden that day.

“We were all supposed to go in together and had matching shirts,” Denise said. “This was his last [spinal tap] out of 26. It took so long, and we were devastated. He’d endured so much.”

“We waited three years for that moment,” Patrick added.

Judy Schaefer, Aiden and Mason’s grandmother, however, knew that this was a huge milestone — and she had to do something. She saw teachers driving by students’ houses and birthday car parades on the news and thought, “why can’t we do that?” she said.

What started as a few friends and family riding by snowballed into friends, family and neighbors, then into several Rockville Centre Fire Departments trucks, bagpipers and more than 30 cars of community members rallying behind Aiden and his family on Sunday.

“My son and his wife probably need a cast on their arm for all the waving they did,” Judy joked. “It was amazing the people that turned out that didn’t even know them. Within 24 hours, this thing was organized. There are really too many people to thank.”

The family’s friend, Patrick O’Connor, of East Rockaway, a member of the NYPD Pipe and Drums Band, helped get everyone on board with the parade. It started at Gutterman's Funeral, passed by the Schaefer's house and ended at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, for the motorists to show their appreciation to healthcare workers.

People honked their horns, waved signs and cheered as they passed by, and the Schaefer family stood on their front lawn waving back. It wasn’t the celebration Denise and Patrick expected, but it kept Aiden and Mason smiling, and that’s what mattered.

“It was overwhelming and humbling,” Denise said. “Throughout all of this, our friends and neighbors have been the biggest support. Now with everything going on, to see them out there for our two guys was just incredible.”

Aiden will continue taking daily chemo pills at home, and he will officially complete his treatment in June.

Neighbor Doug Goodstein captured the parade on video.