As rain fell in San Luis Obispo County on Thursday afternoon, a small but joyous crowd in Oceano refused to let it dampen their party.
It was there, tucked inside a makeshift celebration hall in the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office south station, where 16-year-old Brandon Blair’s wish came true: He got to eat pizza with his law enforcement heroes, and he learned he soon would meet Mickey Mouse.
Brandon, an Oceano resident who suffers from a rare genetic condition known as Williams syndrome, was surrounded by friends and family as he beamed as the guest of honor of the Sheriff’s Office and volunteers from Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties.
“I’m very excited. It’s been a very exciting day for everyone,” Brandon said, his braces-laden smile shining as he pondered each statement. “My mom’s happy for me, and my dad. ... I have a whole bunch of friends, and they’re happy for me and stuff.”
Brandon was diagnosed with Williams syndrome when he was just 2. The condition, caused by a missing chromosome, often is characterized by cardiovascular disease, learning disabilities and developmental delays; in Brandon’s case, he’s had an eye surgery, dental surgery and two ear surgeries, among other complications, said his mother, Lea Blair.
She said many who are diagnosed carry distinctive facial features, including a small chin, wide mouth and “starburst” white patterns on their iris. A litany of tests and treatments on Brandon was often arduous for the family, she said.
“It was very stressful,” she said. “When he was little, he wasn’t meeting his milestones. I kept taking him in and saying, ‘Something’s not right.’ We wanted answers.”
The family eventually got those answers, and Brandon has lived a happy life into his teens. He’s a popular student at Arroyo Grande High School, and he loves working behind the scenes on the school’s drama productions. On Thursday, however, Brandon was the star.
I’m very excited. It’s been a very exciting day for everyone.
Brandon Blair, 16, on his Make-A-Wish pizza party with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office
He arrived to his party in style. As a sheriff’s convoy rolled to the station on Front Street, Brandon was happily huddled in the back of a SWAT-ready BearCat vehicle. He emerged to a throng of family members, friends and sheriff’s personnel, many of them snapping photos and videos on their smartphones as the raindrops fell.
Once inside, Brandon was greeted with a party room meticulously prepped with banners, balloons and refreshments. Kicking off a brief but emotional ceremony, county Sheriff Ian Parkinson gave Brandon a Sheriff’s Office hat and T-shirt before pinning a small replica badge to his shirt.
“Here’s your badge. Now, it doesn’t mean you can do anything you want and get away with it,” Parkinson said as the room broke into laughter.
Then, officials from Make-A-Wish told Brandon his party was about more than meeting his uniformed heroes and chowing down on pizza. He and his family were going to Disney World in Florida on a weeklong, all-expenses-paid trip — just in time for Halloween. As an added bonus, his parents were given $1,600 in cash.
As partygoers dispersed for pizza and cake, Lea Blair and 10-year Make-A-Wish volunteer Christina Gibford embraced.
“You don’t need to worry about money. You don’t need to worry about anything,” Gibford said as Lea Blair’s eyes began to well up.
Brandon himself could hardly contain his gratitude, saying, “Thank you” to just about everyone. His cheerful attitude was well-received Thursday, though Brandon’s mother said that was nothing new for children with Williams syndrome.
“An issue with Williams syndrome — and a blessing — is that they’re very outgoing,” Lea Blair said. “Everyone is their friend, and they have a great outlook on life. It can be a little scary as a parent because everyone is a friend. They don’t have that stranger-danger issue.”
Just 1 in 10,000 people worldwide has Williams syndrome, including about 20,000 to 30,000 in the United States, according to the Williams syndrome Association. And with only three known diagnoses in SLO County, Lea Blair said a lot of emotional support has come from online, particularly via Facebook groups filled with those whose loved ones have been diagnosed.
Luckily for the Blair family, Brandon’s new best friends just might be a few sheriff’s deputies.
“They’re saving people’s lives,” Brandon said. “They’re protecting our lives. ... No more bad guys.”
“He wants to restore justice,” his younger brother, Bennett, 10, chimed in. “Or keep justice in line.”
“Yeah, what my little brother said,” Brandon replied.
Mark Powell: 805-781-7915