Close to 1,000 first responders join in birthday celebration

Tyler Seddon sworn in as chief for the day in Burrillville.

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. (WPRI) –Tyler Seddon’s mother had a simple wish for her sick son’s seventh birthday: She reached out to his heroes – police officers, firefighters and first responders – and asked them to mail him a few birthday cards.

But police departments from all across the country had something bigger in mind.

Tyler, currently in the midst of a battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – the second such fight he’s had to endure during his young life – found himself in the spotlight Thursday morning, as nearly 1,000 first responders from across the country gathered in Rhode Island to celebrate his birthday.

The droves of supporters heard about Tyler’s story when his mother, Rachel Seddon-Dunn, used social media to request the birthday cards. Her efforts quickly gained national attention, as her request was passed along by thousands and answered by hundreds. Suddenly, her son had his very own Twitter hashtag – #TylersTroops – and his story was finding its way onto the front pages of dozens of local media websites.

From there, a local police department started hatching a plan to make Tyler’s seventh birthday special. Then more police department and fire crews and military veterans joined in. The result: A two-mile-long caravan of hundreds of police cruisers, motorcycles and pieces of fire apparatus, lights flashing and sirens blaring, driving up I-95 to meet Tyler and watch him blow out his candles.

The celebration began a little before 9 a.m., when Tyler woke up to a Burrillville Police officer knocking at his door. Tyler and his mother rode in the trooper’s police car to the station, where Tyler was given his very own uniform – handcuffs and all – and asked to raise his right hand and swear to “protect and serve the people of Burrillville” as the town’s honorary police chief for the day.

It continued when police officers drove Tyler to his school and gave him a chance to wave to his classmates and show off his new badge. And it kept going when Tyler found close to 1,000 men and women in uniform cheering him on as he walked down the aisle at Wright’s Farm Restaurant in Harrisville.

First responders from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania were included in the caravan. Officers from California, Florida, Virginia and even Ireland and the United Kingdom couldn’t make it to the event, but they sent in pictures and gifts to show their support from afar.

The response, Seddon-Dunn said, was nothing short of amazing.

“I think that, honestly, the whole world needed to see something positive in the news,” Seddon-Dunn said. “I’m glad that we were a part of it. There is so much support out there for one child, and I just think it’s amazing.”

In addition to his new gig as the Burrillville Police Chief, Tyler added a handful of impressive accolades to his resume during his hour-long birthday ceremony.

At least until midnight, the freshly turned 7-year-old will serve as Rhode Island’s honorary governor and attorney general, plus he’ll be an honorary member of the Rhode Island State Police Department. He was also named honorary police chief of the East Providence Police Department and awarded a certificate that named him an officer within Kentucky’s State Police ranks.

The fight continues

His birthday celebration concluded around shortly after noon on Thursday, but Tyler’s fight – along with thousands of others’ will continue.

Tyler was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. He underwent consistent treatment until July 2012, when the cancer went into remission for nearly two years.

But, after relapsing last November, he is fighting again. According to a website set up by his family and supporters, Tyler has lived through more than 45 surgeries which forced doctors to use more than 200 units of blood products during his two bouts with the disease.

Now doctors say Tyler needs bone marrow transplants, but they say none of his immediate relatives are a proper match. His family said they are working with the Rhode Island Blood Center and the international bone marrow registry Be The Match to find a donor for Tyler’s future treatment.

“One of us could have the cure inside us – one of us here,” Officer John Leddy with the Westerly Police Department said. “It’s the best chance of getting him the help he needs. We want to make sure he has many other birthdays in the future.”

A spokeswoman with the Rhode Island Blood Center said 123 people joined the Be The Match registry during the birthday party, and the fundraising website set up in Tyler’s name has raised more than $17,000 since its November launch.

Charlestown Police will also be hosting a blood drive and marrow registry on March 10 from 3-6 p.m. at the Charlestown Police Headquarters.

Seddon-Dunn said she hopes Tyler’s story, and the public way thousands chose to support him, will go a long way to help cancer patients all over the world.

“I think it’s something he’ll remember forever,” Seddon-Dunn said. “But it’s not only for him. I think it’s for all kids who are battling cancer right now. It makes a difference.”

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