Bryan Ibarra’s jaw dropped Monday afternoon as he watched a California Highway Patrol helicopter slowly descend upon the fields outside Gustine Middle School.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader already had been surprised a few minutes earlier with a trip to Disneyland for his family through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and his new title as an honorary CHP officer.
When asked if he wanted to take a ride, Bryan initially shook his head side-to-side. But after his brothers pushed him on, he geared up his battle-tested courage and took a flight around the city.
“I got to see everything,” Bryan said, beaming with a smile as he told reporters about his experience.
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Monday was seemingly a small recognition of the tough battle Bryan has faced against T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Bryan was diagnosed with the cancer, commonly referred to as ALL, in June 2015. ALL is a cancer that starts from lymphocytes, the early version of white blood cells, in the bone marrow, according to the American Cancer Society.
Over the past year, Bryan has undergone chemotherapy treatment, and he takes insulin to control diabetes.
Bryan’s parents said they never expected such a recognition Monday.
“We’re very thankful,” said his father, Eduardo Ibarra, through CHP Officer Ed Macias, who translated from Spanish.
“This was something that was a very beautiful surprise,” said Bryan’s mother, Juana Ibarra.
Bryan didn’t say much when he was presented with the surprises Monday. He said he just thought some police officers were coming to meet him. But Juana Ibarra said she knew how much it meant to him.
“He doesn’t need to tell us when we look at his smile,” she said. “From seeing him stuck in bed, without being able to speak, to now, it’s been very hard on all of us and we never expected to see this.”
When Bryan’s fifth-grade class and all of Gustine Elementary School found out about his condition, they rallied to his side, Gustine Middle School Principal Michael Bunch said. The middle school also held a car wash fundraiser to help Bryan’s family.
“This was an opportunity for the community to get together around Bryan,” Bunch said. “It’s definitely an opportunity to bring us all closer.”
Make-A-Wish, an organization that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, was contacted about Bryan’s case last September. After visiting him and his family, Make-A-Wish granters Cora Gonzales and Vanessa Lara found out his wish was to visit Disneyland, something no one in his family had done.
Bryan told Make-A-Wish that he wanted to ride the attractions and meet all of the Disney characters.
Lara presented Bryan with a trip to Disneyland for him and his family members, including his mother, father, two brothers and sister, grandmother, grandfather and cousin.
The family will be driven to Disneyland on Friday and will returnAug. 30 in a limousine.
Bryan also told the organization that he would like to be either a mechanic or a police officer when he grows up. So Make-A-Wish contacted the CHP to help make Bryan’s wish come true on Monday.
Los Banos-area CHP Lt. Cmdr. Chuck Mosley swore Bryan in and presented him with a badge. Merced-area CHP Capt. Brian Hawkins and other members of the CHP and Gustine police cheered him on.
“I’m really happy that all of you did this,” Bryan said, adding that he would like to fight crime and stop bad guys as a new officer.
Also honoring Bryan with a city proclamation was Mayor Dennis Brazil, along with Mayor Pro Tem Joe Oliveira and Council Members Pat Nagy and Ellen Hasness.
The collaboration of so many different organizations was a unique aspect of Bryan’s wish, Gonzales said.
“With each wish we want to enhance that wish, make it grow,” Gonzales said. “Gustine has always been a very supportive community.”
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562