Why Mekhi Carter became fascinated with police officers is a mystery, but the reason authorities have taken an interest in the Antioch Township boy is clear cut.
"All of us believe this is an appropriate action to recognize the difficulties and the triumph and the courage this little guy has," Round Lake Beach Deputy Police Chief Richard Chiarello said.
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Born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the boy has had three open-heart surgeries and other procedures in his short life. It's complicated, says his mom, Becky Dressler, but essentially his condition means the left side of his heart is undeveloped and doesn't function.
"He's stable at the moment," she said, adding he has a leaky valve that at some point will require more surgery.
But all was forgotten for awhile Monday night. As is usually the case, the 3½-year-old was smiling broadly as he was presented with a plaque at the village board meeting recognizing him as a Junior Round Lake Beach police officer.
The boy joins the force as an honorary junior officer due to his courage and a continued great attitude, consistent with those who become full-time officers with the department, Chiarello said.
Dressed in a special uniform the department bestowed on him around Halloween, Mekhi accepted the plaque as an "enhancement wish" in conjunction with the Illinois Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for kids with life threatening illnesses.
"Mekhi has had a rough 3½ years but one thing that can always cheer him up is hearing the word cops!" Dressler wrote in a note of thanks to village officials.
Earlier in the day, she said she has no clue why he's so interested in police.
"He started watching the 'Cops' TV show and stopped watching cartoons," she said. "If I'm driving, he says `Slow down' if he sees a cop."
His situation came to the attention of Jen Dosch, a Round Lake resident and wish granter for Make-A-Wish.
"He's one of those kids who is absolutely obsessed with police officers," she said.
An emergency dispatcher, Dosch has worked with Chiarello on other projects involving kids.
"With a group like this, boundaries don't exist," he said. "He's a neat little guy. That smile is just amazing -- it just warms your heart."
With Halloween coming, the department arranged to have a police uniform specially made for Mekhi. It came fully equipped, including a magazine pouch filled with suckers instead of ammunition.
"He always want to put it on," Dressler said. "He would if he could."
Mekhi's main wish will be fulfilled in a few weeks with a trip to Disney World.