‘Exceptional’ North Haven boy named honorary youth officer, raises awareness of disability [NHRegister]

March 31, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New Haven Register

NORTH HAVEN >> The North Haven Police Department welcomed its youngest recruit this week when 9-year-old Hunter Pageau was named the department’s first Honorary Youth Police Officer.

“You are now part of blue blood,” Police Commission Chairman Joseph F. D’Errico told Hunter after his swearing-in.

“Thank you very much,” Hunter told D’Errico. “And I’m even wearing blue.”

“He caught my attention at the tree lighting ceremony this holiday season, and then I initiated this with the First Selectman Mike Freda and the North Haven Police Union,” D’Errico said. “I’m very proud to make this presentation to Hunter this evening.”

Hunter uses a wheelchair and a ventilator due to Spinal Muscular Atrophy with Respiratory Distress, or SMARD.

It’s so rare that there are less than a dozen people in the country and about 80 in the world who suffer from it. Hunter has used the disease as a tool to educate people not only about the illness but about how to live with a disability. And, wherever he goes, he inspires, including at last December’s Christmas tree lighting, where he pulled the switch.

“He was introduced to me a few months back and it was quite apparent that he had everything and then some to be a part of this police department and any police department across the United States for that matter,” said North Haven police Officer Val Queiroga, president of the police union. “He is an exceptional young boy that takes any situation that is presented to him and excels and brings out the positive. To be honest, he looks at us as a role model, but I don’t think there’s a police officer here that doesn’t look at him as someone that we would strive to be like.

“At a very young age, he is beyond his years, is extremely mature and without a doubt the most exceptional person, never mind young man, that I’ve ever met,” Queiroga said. “So it’s my honor to introduce him to the North Haven Police Department.

“From this point forward, you’re part of a brotherhood that you’ll be able to rest your hat on for quite some time,” he told Hunter.

Freda said Hunter isn’t only a hit in North Haven.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time together, Hunter and I, these last few weeks,” Freda said. “Just yesterday, we were at the Capitol (with state Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and state Rep. Dave Yaccarino, both R-North Haven). He’s made quite an impression there — the LOB (Legislative Office Building) was abuzz when Hunter came in yesterday and even last week and the previous two weeks.”

At Hunter’s urging, Fasano and Yaccarino introduced legislation to create “SMARD Awareness Day,” which took a step forward with Monday’s passage through the Government Administrations and Elections Committee.

And that came only days after news that Italian researchers have discovered a gene therapy that may retard or even reverse the effects of SMARD. His family has vowed to make sure Hunter is part of the human clinical trials expected to begin soon, and has set up a fundraising page to raise money for the trip to Italy, as well as for his medical expenses that aren’t covered by insurance.

“He resonated with North Haven residents at the Christmas tree lighting where he delivered his message, and I want to say this on Hunter’s behalf that this disability does not define Hunter Pageau,” Freda said. “What Hunter defines is a powerful symbol of hope, never give up, perseverance, love and helping others. This remarkable little boy, for what he has done in terms of delivering his message, has made a lasting impact on the residents of North Haven, our entire community and our police department as you have heard, and we appreciate that positive energy.

“We have had people come up to us and say that they want to meet Hunter because they’re struggling with some of the trials and tribulations that they go through,” Freda said. “That is the impact that this little boy has had on others.”