Darien Police partners with local family for charity parade

Martin and Brenda Whittaker moved to Darien with their young children in the summer of 2004, and quickly became a part of the community. Their son Luke, who was 6 years old at the time, had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia about a year-and-a-half earlier.

"We never really got introduced to Darien the normal way," Martin said. Instead, the family met neighbors when they would offer to babysit, cook meals, donate blood or help the family drive Luke to and from his doctors appointments.

"We really felt the town we just moved to was a very nice place," Martin said.

On Feb. 1, 2005, Luke received a bone marrow transplant from his younger sister Grace, who was 3-and-a-half years old at the time. He has been healthy ever since, his father said.

While Luke was in the hospital, he saw the Disney movie "Lilo & Stitch," and became fascinated with the idea of traveling to Hawaii and learning how to surf.

"It was kind of unimaginable," Luke's father said. "He was in a bed, and very frail."

A year later, he and his family were able to do just that, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation sent them to Waikiki Beach, where Luke learned how to surf.

"It was a very visual representation of how far he'd come," Martin said. "It was a very real moment for me."

The entire family, including Luke, Nathan, Grace and Bobby, who are now 12, 9, 8 and 4, respectively, has been very involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation since the trip, and is planning to partner with the Darien Police Department next month during the Foundation's Police Parade in Fairfield.

"The parade is in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first wish, when a little boy wished to be a police officer," said Make-A-Wish spokesperson Tara Navara. More than 40 police departments from around Connecticut will participate in the parade, which takes place May 8. Luke will serve as the team captain for the Darien Police Department's team, and will ride in one of the police cars.

On Monday afternoon, Luke and his family met several members of the police force and took a tour of the department's headquarters on Hecker Avenue.

"To date, this is the most exciting thing we've been involved with since I've been in this capacity,' said Darien Sgt. Jeremiah Marron, who serves as the department's public information officer.

The Darien police have been partnering with the foundation for about 15 years, according to Marron.

"This is the first opportunity to go kind of hands on, and what a great way to do it," he said to the family in the department's training office on Monday.

During the afternoon visit, the children met Zulu, the department's police dog. Each of the Whittaker kids also had the chance to sit on one of the department's patrol motorcycles, operate the radio on a police car and work a radar detector.

Luke, Nathan, Grace and Bobby each received a "Challenge Coin" and police patch from Chief Duane Lovello.

"You've got friends here," Lovello told the Whittakers. "So if you ever need anything, we're only a phone call away."