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Van Nuys Boy Headed for White House

Times Staff Writer

President George Bush may have his hands full when he meets Van Nuys resident Jeffrey Baird on Monday.

Jeffrey wants to pin down the President about his plans now that Secretary of Defense nominee John Tower has been rejected; he wants to know what Bush really does all day in the White House, and he wants Bush to create another federal holiday: a day off for kids.

Jeffrey is 12 years old, although his battle with cystic fibrosis has left him smaller than his 8-year-old brother. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to terminally ill children, he and his family are scheduled to leave for Washington on Saturday and see the President on Monday.

He also plans to tour the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing--because “I like money"--climb to the top of the Washington Monument and observe Congress in action.

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While Jeffrey is excited about his trip, it is not quite what he wished for. He wanted to be president.

“I had a few choices, and I couldn’t really decide,” Jeffrey said Thursday morning during a send-off celebration at Van Nuys Hospital, where his father works. “I said, ‘Which would be harder to do? Whatever that is would be the best one.’ ”

The Washington trip won out over spinning records at radio station KIIS or meeting his favorite rockers, Guns N’ Roses. Was he shooting a little high?

“Yeah, but I’m kind of known for that,” Jeffrey said.

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Jeffrey was diagnosed as having cystic fibrosis when he was 3 years old, after suffering nearly constant colds, allergies and breathing problems. It is a degenerative genetic disease that attacks the digestive system first, then turns mucous in the lungs “almost to tar,” said Mary Schraeger, director of special events for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Greater Los Angeles chapter.

Jeffrey’s only outward sign, besides his small stature, is a nagging cough. But Schraeger said children suffering from cystic fibrosis lose weight, lose stamina and eventually succumb to lung infections and diseases such as emphysema and pneumonia.

“There is no cure, but we are getting very close,” she said.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation heard about Jeffrey six months ago through Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where he has been a frequent patient. Judy Lewis, executive director of the foundation’s Los Angeles chapter, said the turnover of administrations in Washington caused some delay in granting the wish.

Lewis said they were surprised when Jeffrey asked to be president instead of choosing one of the more common wishes, such as a Nintendo game or a meeting with a movie star.

Jeffrey’s sister, 9-year-old Kimberly, said she would wish for a trip to Disney World in Florida and “a thousand bucks to spend.” Kimberly also has cystic fibrosis.

But Jeffrey’s spunk did not surprise his mother, Doris, who said he became mature beyond his years by facing things most adults could not handle.

Jeffrey cannot remember staying well long enough to spend a full week in school. He is a seventh-grader in a special program for sick and handicapped students at Porter Junior High School in Granada Hills.

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He takes up to 52 pills a day, Doris Baird said. He used to end up in the hospital every year or so, but recently he has been admitted nearly once a month.

“It’s not a terrible, awful place,” Jeffrey said of the hospital. “But it’s not my favorite place either.”

Jeffrey has seen two of his friends die of the disease and a third become too sick to play. In fact, his mother said it was after his hospital roommate died several years ago that he realized the seriousness of his illness.

“He sort of changed then,” she said. “He got quieter, more introspective.”

When he was younger, Jeffrey wanted to become a fighter pilot when he grew up. Recently, he told his mother he didn’t think he would ever realize that dream.

But neither parents nor child have given up. In fact, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted them, Doris Baird had misgivings about participating in something that sounded so final.

“It tends to make a statement I wasn’t ready to make,” she said. “I’m going to fight as long as I can, and he’ll fight too . . . . I will not accept a terminal diagnosis until this kid is dead.”


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