It’s not every day that a garbage truck with your very own name on it pulls up to your elementary school to welcome you aboard. But Tuesday was the day that a 6-year-old California boy’s dream of becoming a garbageman came to life.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s northeastern California and northern Nevada chapter treated Ethan Dean to a day on the job as a garbageman. After Ethan, who has cystic fibrosis, was surprised at school, he changed into his uniform and hopped onto the truck with garbageman Sam.
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“His face just lit up when he saw the garbage truck,” his mom, Erin Dean, told TODAY. “He couldn’t believe it.”
The first-grader rode a 30-mile route through downtown Sacramento, making several stops to pick up trash before ending for a special event at the state Capitol. “He seemed really happy and was smiling the whole time,” Dean said. “He was overjoyed.”
Cheering crowds greeted Ethan at each location, and a police escort followed the truck while his parents and relatives rode in a limo. “There were so many people that came out — hundreds and hundreds of people at every stop with signs and yelling out his name,” Dean said.
The day was a time for Ethan to take a break from thinking about his illness. He receives treatments in the mornings and evenings to help clear his lungs of mucus and to help with his breathing. He also takes enzymes to help him digest food, his mother said.
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“It meant that he could do something he loves to do but also forget, for a day, about all the things he has to do on daily basis to keep him healthy,” Dean said. “It gave him a little more fight in him to just try to get through all the treatments and things he has to do."
While he doesn’t know the specifics about the progressive, incurable disease that affects the lungs and other organs, he is starting to notice that other people, like his younger sister, Lila, and his friends, don’t need to do the things he does to stay healthy.
“It was a good time for him to feel special and not to feel different from other people,” Dean said. “When he’s been asking questions, you can see a sadness in him. He knows he can’t change it.”
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On Tuesday, though, it was all about living the life of a garbageman, which, along with being a teacher, is his career goal. He’s loved garbage trucks since he was a toddler and would race downstairs when he heard the truck nearby and went out to watch it work, his mom said.
“He’s just obsessed with them,” Dean said.
As the surprise was revealed Tuesday morning at Ethan's year-round school, he ran through a line of students and broke through a banner. Once he was suited up and ready to work, they headed out.
The route included stops at the Sacramento Bee, the local newspaper; a fire station; the California Environmental Protection agency, where Ethan's dad, Ken, works; a restaurant; and finally to the Capitol, where there was a news conference with community leaders, and Ethan got a tour of the governor’s office.
The 6-year-old was exhausted after the daylong event and didn’t say too much. But Dean said he loved every minute of it, and the family appreciated the community effort.
“The support made him feel like he was on top of the world and he could conquer whatever was put in his path,” she said, adding: “I know he’s going to remember this forever.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.