Ethan Dean was living his dream on Tuesday.
The 6-year-old has a garbage truck bedspread and pillow. He has garbage truck toys. He’s had a garbage truck birthday party.
Now, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he got to experience what it’s like to be a garbage truck driver. The boy who has cystic fibrosis rode in a garbage truck through downtown Sacramento, collecting trash and recyclables, just like he’s always wanted.
In a series of stops in Sacramento, Ethan helped the city get rid of its waste, wearing a neon worker’s vest and cap that say “Hero Ethan.” Hundreds of people came out to cheer him along the way, with handmade signs and loud cheers.
Sam Thurman, who drove the garbage truck, says Ethan couldn’t wipe the grin from his face all day. He says he looked like it was Christmas morning and he was opening his first present.
At his first stop, he was greeted by a crowd of more than 100 people at the Sacramento Bee.
Later, when asked his favorite part of the day so far, he said it was “cleaning up garbage.”
When Ethan visited the Make-A-Wish Foundation in February, he was asked a series of questions: What do you want to be? Who do you want to meet? What do you want to have? Where do you want to go?
In 2013, Make-A-Wish transformed San Francisco into Gotham for a 5-year-old boy who had battled leukemia for years and dreamed of being Batkid. Miles Scott traveled from one crime scene to another, rescuing a damsel in distress and thwarting the plans of The Riddler and The Penguin, as crowds of people cheered him on.
Ethan’s dream is less fantastic, more everyday superhero – almost all of his answers were garbage truck-related, said Jennifer Stolo, CEO of the local chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He really, really wants to be a garbage man when he grows up.
It meant the wish he’d be granted wasn’t too mysterious.
“We pretty much knew it was going to be about garbage trucks,” said Ethan’s dad, Ken Dean, laughing. He’s been watching them come down the street since he first learned how to crawl, his dad said.
Stolo and her team of “fairies” knew just what he wanted.
Five stops are planned Tuesday before the trip ends at the Capitol for a press conference and VIP lunch.
Ethan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant and began treatment at 8 weeks old. The genetic disorder is characterized by a buildup of thick mucus and frequent lung infections, and the median life expectancy is about 40 years old.
Though he and his parents haven’t had a big talk about his diagnosis, his dad said every once in a while Ethan asks him a question or two. He’s begun to realize that his friends and younger sister don’t have to go to treatment like he does.
His dad hopes none of that will be on Ethan’s mind Tuesday. The only thing he needs to think about is garbage. And trucks.
“I want him to have fun and not have to worry about the day-to-day,” his dad said. “It’s all about him.”