Moments after being sworn in last Saturday, Feb. 22 as the first honorary junior officer of the Signal Hill Police Department, 6-year-old Alan Nguyen was given a set of handcuffs, a belt and a small-size shoulder microphone.
His badge: No. 1.
The boy peered up at his partner, Officer Brian Johnson, who said, “Okay, you ready?” And they were both off on their first call.
The day, which included riding in a police vehicle to catch an alleged “thief” and also riding in a fire truck before putting out a mock fire, was a dream come true for Nguyen, who has been battling a form of cancer known as childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) since age 3 1/2.
After receiving his final chemotherapy treatment on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, the Bellflower boy’s only request was to serve as a police officer and a firefighter for a day, a wish granted by Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles, the police department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department in Signal Hill. The police and fire departments both orchestrated the day’s activities.
During the morning hours at the police station at 2745 Walnut Ave., the boy donned a dark-blue uniform, made by the police department specifically for him. Raising his right hand and reciting an oath, Nguyen was sworn in by Police Chief Michael Langston.
“Alan’s dream is going to be realized today,” said Chief Langston, who added that maybe one day the boy could become an arson investigator, a position that he said merges duties of both police and fire departments.
After getting a personal tour of the department, Nguyen then climbed into the police vehicle, when a call came through the radio for “Alan One.” The two officers quickly responded, arriving with sirens blaring at a local Target store.
As shoppers looked on, Nguyen arrived with a small black box that included equipment to collect evidence. The officers then reviewed surveillance footage.
“Let’s go see if we can catch this guy,” Officer Johnson said.
Hot on the thief’s trail, Nguyen took pictures and collected fingerprints in the case of three stolen Power Ranger action figures. In Reservoir Park, located on Gundry Avenue not far away, the alleged perpetrator, played by a police department officer, was handcuffed and arrested. The officers recovered the toy that was later given to Nguyen by Target.
After a barbeque lunch at the police station, the boy then got a chance to fulfill his other aspiration, being a firefighter. He toured the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Fire Station 60 in Signal Hill, road along in a fire truck and responded to fire “activity.”
It was all in a day’s work for Nguyen, but the event also served as a celebration for his recovery, as his family beamed with joy to see the boy carry out his dream after having his final treatment just a week earlier.
“I’m so happy,” said his grandfather Thanh Nguyen. “We’re happy because we’re ending treatment for him.”
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, ALL, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, is “the most common type of cancer in children.”
The boy’s father, Tien Nguyen, said doctors haven’t yet declared his cancer in full remission yet, however he said the chemotherapy has ended and the only treatment left is monthly checkups for the first year and intermittent checkups for five years after that.
“He really enjoyed the event,” his father said of his son, who is turning 7 next month. “We will remember the event for life.”
Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles grants about 400 wishes every year, said Dimitri Czupylo, spokesperson for the nonprofit organization, which is a local chapter of the national foundation that grants wishes of children age 2 ½ through 18 who confront life-threatening medical conditions. Wishes are granted in four categories, a “wish to have,” a “wish to be,” a “wish to go,” and a “wish to meet,” he said.
“This young man wanted to be both a fireman and a policeman, and the [departments] came together to make that happen,” Czupylo said.