A Florida preschooler who battled cancer had his dream fulfilled when he was made an “honorary deputy.” The 5-year-old’s teachers teamed up with the local sheriff’s office to give the boy an experience that he will never forget.
Merrick Lloyd had spent the last seven months undergoing chemotherapy before he recently rang the hospital ward’s bell.
“He loved watching ‘Paw Patrol’ as a toddler,” Carlton Palmore Elementary School Pre-K teacher Sandee Jakubik told The Epoch Times via email. “This year he said he wanted to be a sheriff so he could ‘put the bad guys away.'”
Merrick, who attends Polk County’s voluntary prekindergarten program, arrived at Polk County Sheriff’s Office for the big surprise in mid-July. Jakubik and her co-teacher Angela Oxley, Sergeant Wozniak, Sheriff Grady Judd, deputies, and office administrators were gathered to greet him.
They “split up the fun” so as not to exhaust Merrick, said, Jakubik. On day one, the boy had a tour of the station to see cars, planes, helicopters, and tanks, and was “deputized” by Sheriff Grady Judd. He was also gifted a custom sheriff’s uniform in his size, replete with sleeve patches.
“The smile on his face was priceless!” said Jakubik. “Sergeant Wozniak finished getting Merrick ready by helping him with his belt, pretend gun, handcuffs, and walkie-talkie. He then introduced him to the security officers and they walked through the metal detectors.
“He told Merrick he was his ‘partner’ and he was going to show him around. It was adorable!”
Before leaving, Merrick was gifted a plaque from Sheriff Grady Judd and a backpack filled with Sheriff’s Office paraphernalia. The next week, he was invited back for the second day of fun, making pretend arrests, pulling over pretend speeders, and playing pretend stakeout with the SWAT team.
The school shared photos on Facebook of Merrick’s day, captioned, “When the school and community come together, beautiful things happen.”
The Sheriff’s Office also posted on Facebook, adding, “Dream big, Merrick! It was wonderful getting to know you, your teachers, and your family this week.”
It was Jakubik—who describes her student as fun, kindhearted, and very observant—who kick-started plans for Merrick’s special treat after a news segment on TV. She heard news anchors discussing a boy with cancer who was going to be deputized.
“I ran into the room because I thought they were talking about Merrick,” she told The Epoch Times. “I was disappointed because it wasn’t him. My husband said he would help me make it happen.
“There was a point in Merrick’s treatment that he told his mom it was ‘too hard to be a kid.’ This broke my heart, knowing he was struggling.”
The teacher’s husband liaised with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Captain Terry Storie and Sergeant Wozniak volunteered themselves as ringleaders, for the sake of the little boy with the big dream who deserved a break.
Reflecting back on her son’s journey with cancer, Merrick’s mother, Michelle, told The Epoch Times that it all began with stomach problems and constipation in September of 2020, and it gradually got worse. In the first part of November, his stomach pain worsened, but an X-ray showed no problems. During this time, the family moved and Merrick got ready for his new school. He received vaccines at that time and his mom was warned that he would have some issues a week later, but that they should not worry.
On Merrick’s second day of school, Jakubik noticed that he seemed unwell. The next day, he was at home, and he vomited, suffered from stomach pain, and had diarrhea. After a return visit to the doctor for some urgent care, Michelle took her son to the hospital emergency room.
An X-ray showed possible intussusception, a condition in which one segment of the intestine folds in on another. “They did a procedure to force air into his bottom to try and push it back through,” said Michelle. “It was very painful for him because they did it while he was awake, and with no pain medicine.”
It didn’t work. Merrick went in for surgery, where his doctors located the true source of the problem: a tumor on the little boy’s large intestine. Tests confirmed Burkitt lymphoma, a fast-growing form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“To hear the words that your child has cancer is devastating,” Michelle said.
Merrick entered a six-phase chemotherapy treatment. His terrified mom stood by as bone marrow surgery left her son unable to walk for over a week, and painful sores colonized his digestive tract from top to bottom.
He “stopped at being a kid,” she said. But the phenomenal nurses at Saint Joseph’s Baptist Hospital, Tampa, played with Merrick on his good days, and the hospital preacher, a Burkitt lymphoma survivor from 1984, became a source of immense comfort.
“It gave me comfort knowing he was in his 30s, now doing well, and giving the gospel and comfort for the patients in the hospital,” Michelle said.
After phase four of Merrick’s treatment, a CAT and PET scan confirmed the chemotherapy was working. The day Merrick rang the hospital’s cancer ward bell was emotionally charged.
Merrick’s special day at the Sheriff’s Office was a chance for him to feel like himself again. Michelle recalled, “I cried seeing my son smile and be happy.”