For a few hours Tuesday, a 6-year-old boy reminded us to find joy when even the simplest of wishes comes true.
Ethan Dean, who has battled cystic fibrosis since birth, took over Sacramento as he was escorted around the city in a garbage truck. The adventure fulfilled Ethan’s dream of becoming a garbage man and was the work of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Randle Communications and Waste Management.
As thousands cheered, chanted and waved signs, Ethan and his driver collected trash and recyclables around town, ending their march on the west steps of the Capitol as music blared. Those steps had been the site of unrest and ugliness in recent weeks. But not on this day.
“The world sometimes is kind of tough and rough, and you reminded us just how beautiful the world is and how good people can be,” Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg told Ethan during a ceremony at the end of his route. “Thank you for making us feel so good, little guy.”
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Ethan’s dream to be a garbage man dates back to when he could barely walk and would scurry to the upstairs of his family’s Rancho Cordova home to watch trucks pick up the garbage outside.
Asked what his favorite part of Tuesday was, he simply answered: “Being a garbage man.”
His day started outside his school, Sunrise Elementary, where Ethan was surprised by a garbage truck with his name emblazoned on the side. As Ethan ran toward the truck, bursting through a banner, Ethan’s parents said they had to fight back tears.
“We’ve taken things day-by-day with him,” said his mom, Erin Dean. “The challenging things come up from time to time. But they’re overwhelmed a lot by the good moments.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes severe damage to the lungs. There is no cure for the disease, and many of its patients die before they reach the age of 40.
Ethan starts his days by breathing mist through a nebulizer. He then wears a special vest for 20 minutes that vibrates, trying to break up the mucus in his lungs. He has to eat enzymes with his meals to help his digestive system and visits a team of doctors every few months for shots, breathing tests and bloodwork.
Erin said her son went through his usual routine on Tuesday.
“We can forget today what he’s going through,” she said.
Ethan and his driver were escorted by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department, the Sacramento Police Department and officers from the Rancho Cordova Police Department. Social media followers and readers of The Bee’s Facebook page followed his progress, with some saying they were cheering him on from as far away as San Diego, Texas and Florida.
His first stop was at VSP’s headquarters in Rancho Cordova. From there, Ethan and his crew headed to midtown, where they collected old paper from a loading dock at The Sacramento Bee.
The next stop was Fire Station No. 2 on I Street downtown, where Ethan hopped into a fire truck, got some swag from Sacramento Republic FC and met Fire Chief Walt White.
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Ethan said the next stop was his favorite: the high-rise headquarters of the California Environmental Protection Agency on I Street, where his father, Ken, works. A crowd of about 500 people greeted Ethan and chanted his name as he helped dump large bins of paper into dumpsters.
“He just warmed my heart,” said Allyson Williams, holding a sign she made that read “World’s Greatest Garbageman.”
After swinging by Frank Fat’s restaurant downtown, Ethan arrived at the Capitol. Cheerleaders, workers on their lunch breaks and dignitaries including Kings President Chris Granger greeted him.
A staff member for Gov. Jerry Brown read a letter to the crowd. She said Brown, who is in Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention, was sad to miss the day. Another person hung a sign out of a second-story window of the Capitol that read: “Ethan is my hero.”
“I commend him for choosing a job that makes the world a cleaner, better place,” the governor wrote.
Six-year-old Ethan Dean, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at just 2 weeks old, gives a high five while getting a lift from Capt. Recycle Mitch Zak during his stop at The Sacramento Bee to pick up recycling. It was all part of Ethan's day fulfilling a dream to pick up garbage in a big garbage truck, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in Sacramento, Calif. Ed FletcherThe Sacramento Bee