Article reprinted with
permission from The North County Times, San Diego, CA
Fireman Jack meets
FALLBROOK ---- Ever had a hero?
Jack Beqaj, 6, told the Make-A-Wish foundation his hero was
"Fireman Dave." The woman looked at Jack and said, 'You sure about that?'
" said Jack's dad, Jim Beqaj, on Thursday. "So, she said, 'Why don't we wait until after
your surgery and we'll ask again.' " Jack's wish remained
the same after his brain surgery. Perhaps not famous to Make-A-Wish,
but for Jack, who memorizes every scene and line from Bonsall
resident Dave Hood's children's video "There Goes a Fire
Truck," the choice was obvious.
Before Jack arrived to meet his hero, Hood talked to firefighters
at the North County Fire Protection District headquarters about
the hands-on activities planned for Jack. Hood said his video
series, which focuses on a variety of vehicles, including fire
trucks, sprung from having his own family and watching the entertainment
created for children. "I was watching a lot of animated
videos which were full of a lot of violence, and believe it
or not, I decided to make these videos," said Hood of the
business he launched in 1994. A former host of "PM Magazine"
in San Diego, the longtime television man...is often approached
in the middle of "nowhere" and people say "Aren't
you Fireman Dave?' " But he's never been someone's "wish"
before Thursday" Hood said. Make-A-Wish flew Jack, his
parents, and his five siblings from Toronto for a weeklong trip
that included Thursday's session with Hood.
"He showed up here the day of his birthday on Sunday,"
said San Diego Make-A-Wish coordinator Amy Wilson. "We
sent them to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the Aerospace Museum
in Balboa Park. But I guess he just wants to meet Dave. His
parents say he's obsessed with him." Sounds like a lot
of fun for a little boy, and his parents said he needs it after
they learned last Thanksgiving that Jack has a progressive neurological
disease called Rasmussen's Encephalitis.
"He said, 'Mommy, my arm is shaking and I'm not doing it,'
" said Jack's mom, Jennifer Beqaj, of the first seizure.
"It's changed his whole life."
The disease strikes children under age 10, causing frequent
and severe seizures, loss of motor skills and speech, paralysis
on one side of the body, inflammation of the rain, dementia
and mental deterioration. Surgery cuts off the part of the brain
causing the seizures, but also permanently shuts off the functions
performed by that area. Some brain signals can be rerouted,
but precious functions such as sight are often lost. When a
white stretch limousine pulled up to the curb in front of the
Fallbrook fire station Thursday morning, Hood, decked out in
a firefighting coat, reached in and helped Jack climb out. When
Hood sat down with the boy, Jack's smile lifted the right side
of his face, while the left side hung soft. The two walked between fire trucks and
ambulances hand-in-hand, talking to each other like fast friends.
Hood held onto Jack's working arm, his right, while his left
arm lay limp. Jack struggled to keep up with his hero, his right
leg mobile but his left leg encased in a brace. Jim Beqaj described Jack's normal demeanor as pensive, but said
this week in San Diego showed the most promise in his motor
skills and response. "It just goes to show you how much
this means to him," Jim Beqaj said. Jack's parents and
siblings took turns videotaping the encounter with Hood, which
they expected Jack to talk about all the way to the hotel, on
the plane back to Canada and for weeks to come. But during the
visit, which included an unplanned run with Hood and a fire
crew to an accident scene, Jack remained rather quiet. "It's
like if you meet a star, a singer or an actress," said
Jack's sister, Emma, 14. "You wouldn't know what to say."
After returning to the station from the accident, Jack and some
firefighters took a fire hose and sprayed Hood, who comically
fled from the water stream to an open field next to the department.
Next, Hood and Jack watched one of Hood's new videos. Jack's
family, several firefighters ...all sat around a big-screen
television to watch Hood's "There Goes a Bus." In
the short video, Hood runs around showing how a bus works, the
many kinds of buses available in San Diego County and in England,
and how to wash a bus. Jack was transfixed on the TV, wearing
a firefighter hat labeled "Dave's Crew: #1 Fireman Jack"
and sitting beside Hood on the floor. The two chatted, exchanged
high-fives and laughed. Before the video, Jim Beqaj said he
appreciated the opportunity to cheer up his son because there
won't always be good days. "It's the little things that
he'll never get to do," he said. "He'll never get
a driver's license. He'll never be able to drive the California
coast. If he had a cottage, he'd have to have someone take care
of him." Eventually, he would may be someone else's hero,
perhaps his own.
Contact staff writer Erica Warren at (760) 728-5511