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BOISE — Three-year-old Leo Martin got the happiest surprise of his young life on Monday. He was living a wish come true riding in the cab of a Republic Services garbage truck, running the trash can prongs, visiting the landfill and the recycling center and ending it all with a whipped cream mustache.

“He is a fun-loving 3-year-old,” said Shannon Martin, Leo’s mom, “and his favorite thing in the whole world is garbage trucks. He spends 80% of his playtime with his garbage trucks, dumpster bins and recycling bins. He sets up a route and pretends he’s a garbage man.”

The surprise — Leo didn’t know about his garbage man day until he and his parents, Shannon and Brian Martin of Boise, were whisked up Monday morning by a limousine and taken to Republic Services HQ — was thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and to a few noble souls in the background making sure the wish would come true.

“Kudos to Rachele Klein, business development manager at Republic,” said Julie Thomas, regional director of Make-A-Wish who helped coordinate the event. Klein was one of those behind the scenes who went into action for Leo’s wish. After Thomas made the initial contact with Klein, “we just connected the dots and the ball got rolling instantly,” Thomas said. “We just talked and it was ‘go time.’”

Thomas said there are four categories a “Wish Child” can choose from: They can go somewhere, get something, be someone or meet someone. “To ‘be someone’ is quite rare,” Thomas said. “Anytime it’s a ‘be,’ it’s more unusual than other categories.”

Thomas said she loves her work because of “what it does for your heart. These children don’t ask to be sick. We are here to be just a little ray of sunshine for them. These kids are what it’s all about. And we hope Leo feels the love from the community.”

Leo and his mom have “a breakfast picnic” at 7:30 a.m. every Friday so he won’t miss his neighborhood’s weekly garbage truck pickup by Curtis, the truck driver.

Leo waits for the truck clutching his favorite stuffed elephant, Harry Elephanté, named, of course, after Harry Belafonte. “That’s his best bud,” said Shannon. “He was with him all through chemo. Harry went through chemo as well.”

Bob Bennett, Republic Services general manager, said Leo is “a recycling warrior” and he is honored to have played a part in giving Leo his wish.

“This day’s about Leo. … We got a uniform for him and they’re gonna roll out the red carpet,” said Bennett a few days prior to the big day. “We want him to have an absolutely fantastic experience. It sounds like he pays attention to recycling and knows all about it. Hopefully in about 16 years he’ll come work for us … which will be awesome.”

Thomas hopes Leo’s wish gives him and his family a bit of respite.

“We hope it helps him and his family forget about the illness. A wish is only temporary, but hopefully it will give them lasting memories and help them through this hard time.”

The hard time for Leo began when he was 2 years and 3 months old, Shannon Martin said. He began having dizzy spells and had some trouble with his balance. Sensing that there was something strange going on, they took him to his pediatrician and finally to a pediatric EMT who agreed it was strange enough to get an MRI. “We saw he had quite a large tumor,” Shannon said. It was in Leo’s brain.

Surgery was scheduled a few days later. That’s when they found it was cancerous — medulloblastoma. Leo then underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. He was in the hospital most of the following nine months.

Getting that diagnosis and the subsequent surgery and treatments was daunting, Shannon said. “It kind of blindsides you. … One of the hardest things was just seeing his whole body with all these tubes.”

Leo has since finished treatment and is currently cancer-free, although he has to go in for MRIs every three months. “He got to ring the bell in the middle of 2020,” said Shannon, referring to the bell cancer patients get to ring when they are declared cancer-free. “We keep our fingers, toes, legs and arms crossed every three months,” she said.

The chemo also caused permanent hearing loss, and Leo now wears hearing aids. “He’ll have some hurdles,” said his mom. “If you say spoon, he can’t hear the ‘s’. But if the worst thing that comes out of this is he has to wear hearing aids, we’re pretty blessed.”

Monday’s last stop was at IHOP, where Leo got to eat his favorite — waffles with whipped cream. “My husband makes waffles every Saturday,” said Shannon, “and homemade whipped cream. Sometimes Leo helps with the whipped cream. He loves to run the hand-held blender, and he knows the ingredients: powdered sugar, vanilla and whipping cream.”

Jeanne Huff is the community engagement editor for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at 208-465-8106 and follow her on Twitter @goodnewsgirl.

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