Alex Lelenoa was only halfway through his ham and cheese sandwich Tuesday when visitors from the Anaheim PD surprised him and his fourth-grade classmates during lunchtime at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School.
The occasion was the one-year anniversary of when the Anaheim PD, along with Make-a-Wish Foundation’s Orange County and Inland Empire chapter, made Alex’s superhero wish come true in a daylong event involving hundreds of volunteers and even a spin in the police helicopter for then-7-year-old Alex (click here to see a video of that event).
“What’s up buddy?” Officer Jacob Gallacher, holding a huge cake, said as Alex beamed and his classmates oohed and awed.
“How you doing?”
Alex, now 8, was diagnosed in May 2012 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Liz Lelenoa plants a kiss on son Alex’s cheek Tuesday. Photo by Steven Georges
“Can you believe it’s been a year since your superhero wish?” Gallacher asked Alex as Anaheim PD Deputy Chief Julian Harvey and Officer Leslie Vargas looked on.
“Oh my God, he’s so happy,” said Alex’s mother, Liz, who swung by during her lunch hour for the festivities.
“When his dimples show, he’s happy,” Liz said.
The Anaheim PD’s superhero wish for Alex on Sept. 30, 2013 was so successful that a big-city police agency in Northern California riffed on the concept and staged something even more elaborate.
But Alex’s special day last year was a doozie.
Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada designated Alex an honorary police officer and handed him a Robin costume.
The Riddler had escaped from the Orange County Jail.
Alex, teamed up with Batman, had to catch him.
Anaheim Deputy Chief Julian Harvey congratulates Alex, 8. Photo by Steven Georges.
The day’s escapades took Alex to Knott’s Berry Farm to battle with crooked cowboys, to Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park to take down some pillaging pirates and, finally, to an Anaheim PD training facility where Alex, using his special superhero “freezing” capabilities, stopped the Riddler cold.
Even Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait showed up to thank Alex for helping to keep the city safe.
Since that day, Gallacher and Alex have become good buddies, staying in touch via phone calls and occasional visits.
Gallacher, whose first job was playing Tigger at Disneyland, tapped his pals in the entertainment business to participate in Alex’s superhero wish. On Tuesday, Gallacher surprised Alex with a Batman-themed cake that teacher Sharon Switzer helped serve to her delighted students.
Said Harvey of last’s year’s superhero wish: “This was an opportunity to create a special memory for a kid going through a very difficult time. And it also really brought the department together. Everyone felt it was so rewarding to get together and do what was needed to make it a special day for Alex.”
Greg Smet, principal of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, said it’s important for students to see police officers regularly.
“It’s all about making a nice connection with our youth,” Smet said. “The Anaheim PD is fantastic. They have a wonderful relationship with the Anaheim City School District.”
Liz Lelenoa, who has two other children, Lovina, 7, and Isaake, 2, said Alex remains in active chemotherapy treatment at CHOC Children’s in Orange.
“It’s awesome,” Alex said of the surprise visit and cake. “I’m so excited.”
Alex and the students then watched the video of last year’s superhero wish.
When it was over, Liz Lelenoa wiped away a tear.
“It always makes me cry,” she said.