TWO brave lads who have battled heart conditions will lead out their Sunderland AFC heroes.
Tom Smith, seven, and Aaron Vincent, six, will be mascots for Sunday’s clash with Blackburn Rovers – new boss Martin O’Neill’s first in charge.
East Rainton youngster Tom was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, an illness that affects one in 5,000 babies, and has already had to face three gruelling heart operations.
He has a hole in his heart and the left side of the organ is severely underdeveloped, affecting the flow of blood through his body.
As he grows, more pressure will be placed on his heart, and it is expected that the East Rainton Primary School pupil will need a heart transplant when he is 12.
But he has never let the condition affect his passion for football, and he regularly attends the Stadium of Light with dad Andy.
Dad-of-three Andy, 35, who owns TRG Car Sales in Houghton, said: “I have never seen anyone so happy as when I told Tom he was mascot.
“He’s been going to the matches for a year now, and being a mascot is the one thing he has always gone on about.
“His favourite players are Connor Wickham and Phil Bardsley. Hopefully he’ll get to see Phil play.”
He added: “Tom’s fine at the minute, his condition doesn’t affect him too much.
“Except that he loves playing football but will never be able to play football competitively because of the strain it would put on his heart.”
Fellow mascot Aaron, from Easington Lane is also SAFC daft.
Being mascot will be a special treat for the youngster, who is back on his feet following an eight-hour heart transplant operation after being born with an enlarged heart.
Aaron was three years old when he became unwell, with what was thought could be asthma.
But an ultrasound examination at Sunderland Royal Hospital revealed the heart condition.
After a six-month search for a donor organ, Aaron underwent the life-saving transplant procedure.
Despite being once critically ill, Aaron is now a normal little boy who enjoys classes at Easington Lane Primary School.
Mum Andrea Bennett, 36, said she can’t wait to see her son walk on to the Stadium of Light pitch.
“Aaron loves all football. He’s anyone’s fan, he just loves the game.
“This is a perfect early Christmas present for him.”
Aaron has to take regular medication to ensure his body does not reject the heart, but is living life to the full.
“He’s had a couple of chest infections recently, but apart from that he’s fine,” said mother-of-four Andrea.
“He’s just a typical young lad.”
The mascot places were donated by former Black Cats chairman Sir Bob Murray, in a raffle in aid of the SAFC Foundation.