4th grader is Mukilteo’s Chief for a Day

By Sara Bruestle | Mar 05, 2014
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Connor Dunham, a fourth grader at Columbia Elementary, will be Chief for a Day on Aug. 21. He was sworn in as “chief” on March 3 by Mayor Jennifer Gregerson. His mom, Alicia, pins on his badge at the ceremony.

Nine-year-old Connor Dunham gets to be the honorary police chief of Mukilteo for a day.

The Mukilteo Police Department is sponsoring Connor, a fourth grader a Columbia Elementary, so that he can be Chief for a Day in August.

“It feels really good to be it,” Connor said. “I’m just very excited for when it’s going to be.”

Chief for a Day is a Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission program to honor children who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness.

“He is super excited,” said Alicia Dunham, Connor’s mom. “When he found out he was Chief for a Day, waiting for that is like waiting for Christmas to come. He said, ‘What do you mean it’s not until August?’ It feels like an eternity away when you’re 9 years old.”

Law enforcement agencies throughout Washington will sponsor 32 children on Aug. 21 in the 2014 Chief for a Day. Connor is the fourth “little chief” from Mukilteo to be honored.

“We will provide these children with a day of fun they will never forget and become a part of their precious lives,” said Mukilteo Officer Colt Davis. “It is our mission to help these children and their families to forget about their illness, if only for one day.”

Connor was diagnosed with leukemia at age 2.

Thanks to treatment, his cancer is gone, but due to complications with a bone marrow transplant, he now has graft versus host disease where his immune system fights the donor’s.

“At a young age, he learned to live life on a day-to-day basis,” Alicia Dunham said. “He doesn’t talk much about what he wants to do when he gets older or when he grows up. It’s more embracing and enjoying every moment that you’re given.”

When Connor was diagnosed with leukemia, doctors told his family treatment would take 90 days, but after a year of failed treatments, they decided to try a bone marrow transplant.

A donor from Europe was a 9.5 out of 10 match for the transplant – “almost a perfect match,” Alicia Dunham said.

Complications have affected Connor’s skin and his joints. He has lost range of motion in his elbows and knees, and he can’t move his wrists or ankles.

Connor also has a higher chance of developing another type of cancer, so doctors continue to monitor him regularly at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

He receives two shots a day: one of medication to help with the bone marrow transplant, and another of growth hormone.

“He is so strong in so many ways,” Alicia Dunham said. “I think that part of it is he was blessed that he was diagnosed so young. He doesn't really know that life is any different.

“He takes it in so much stride. He could have fought me with every doctor’s visit and shot I have to give him, but he’s accepted that that has to happen and does it like a champ.”

Though he is slower and much smaller than his peers in fourth grade – he is about the size of a first or second grader – it doesn’t stop him from doing what he loves, like playing soccer or baseball.

“He tries his best,” Alicia Dunham said. “He never gives up, no matter what. He gives it his all.”

As Chief for a Day, Connor gets to wear a custom-made Mukilteo Police uniform with a badge, which he gets to keep.

“It was sort of baggy and big at first, but after about a week of adjusting it, now it fits,” Connor said.

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson swore him in on March 3.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” Alicia Dunham said of the program. “It gives kids who wouldn't have the chance to be in the spotlight to shine and show that they are special in so many ways.”

On Aug. 21, Connor will be transported by police motorcade to Washington’s police academy in Burien, be honored in a swearing-in ceremony, and have lunch with officers-in-training.

He will then watch or join in on law enforcement presentations, including displays and demos on K9 teams, bicycle patrols, SWAT teams, rifle units and more – that will let him pretend he is the chief of police.

He and his family will also receive gifts, such as toys, movie passes and gift cards – to offset the costs of Connor’s medical bills.

Connor said he is most excited to meet the other kids who are “little chiefs or sheriff’s,” too.

“He is beyond excited,” Alicia Dunham said. “He would wear his uniform every day if he could. He makes sure it’s hanging up in the closet, just like it's supposed to be.”

A fundraiser will be held on March 22 at the Hilton Garden Inn, at 8401 Paine Field Blvd. in Mukilteo. The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will include a live band.

Tickets are $20 and will be available at the following locations:

Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce office (4902 76th St. S.W.); Mukilteo Police Department (10500 47th Pl. W.); Matt Martin State Farm Insurance (12308 Mukilteo Speedway); and Papa Murphy’s Pizza (12721 Mukilteo Speedway).

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