Awhile back, Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel had a working lunch with a deputy at Arby’s, where they were putting together the program for something called Camp Hero.
The camp, which attracted 95 kids in grades 4 through 7 last year and 213 this year, introduces young people to every aspect of public safety jobs – police, fire, EMTs, bomb squads, conservation officers, the military.
During the lunch, though, Stoffel noticed a toddler sitting not far away. His name was Wyatt Schmaltz, and he was bald, so the deputy approached the boy’s father and asked him what the story was.
The boy, just 3, had Stage 4 cancer and was undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. Otherwise, his father said, he was just a little kid who liked to play cops and robbers and was always arresting his brothers.
Stoffel was taken aback. This little boy sitting in an Arby’s was the symbol of what courage stands for, Stoffel said.
So then and there, Stoffel decided that even though Wyatt was only 3, he should be able to attend Camp Hero. Maybe he’d get a kick out of it.
Unfortunately, Wyatt came down with an infection and had to be sent to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
Knowing that the boy dreamed of being a policeman, Stoffel and an Indiana State Police trooper traveled to Riley and presented Wyatt with a real deputy’s shirt, obviously altered significantly, and, in his hospital room, swore him in as the country’s youngest deputy.
Not an honorary deputy, mind you, but a junior special deputy charged with operating under the auspices of whatever special orders the sheriff gave him.
The good news is that Wyatt improved relatively quickly and was actually able to attend the graduation ceremony for those who attended Camp Hero. He took the stage, making his debut as the country’s youngest official deputy.
He also got to meet Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter during that ceremony on Friday. He greatly admired his hat, but what’s a uniform without a hat? Wyatt went home with the hat.
This week, Wyatt is back home, having a good time.
He’s quite a little fighter, said his mother, April. He doesn’t seem to have as many side effects from the treatments he’s getting.
When he’s not in the hospital, he’s a regular little kid.
It’s going to be a long road, though. He’s undergone chemotherapy. At the end of the month, he’ll have surgery to remove a tumor in his abdomen. Then he’s supposed to undergo a stem cell transplant, followed by radiation treatment.
But they say little morale boosters, such as being named a real deputy and walking off with the state police superintendent’s hat, can do things that medicine can’t, Stoffel said.
Dr. Michelle Saysana, a pediatrician at Riley, said when Wyatt was named a deputy, he’d come back from a test and was groggy, but the visitors caused him to be instantly smiling.
It’s amazing how he reacted, Saysana said. Moments like that really help. It gives them something else to think about. We know that you do better when you feel better.