Some require oxygen and 'round-the-clock care. Others are in constant pain, though you'd never know it.
Yet for a few moments Friday morning, 30 ailing teens and young adults from across Bergen County -- not to mention dozens of veteran law enforcement officers -- had reason to smile.
Proudly displaying their shiny new badges, the youngsters participated in Sheriff Michael Saudino's eighth annual "Chief for a Day" event.
"It doesn't get old for me -- and I don't think it does for any chiefs here," Saudino said as he surveyed a squad of dozens of area top cops and their honorary namesakes gathered on the steps of the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack.
Saudino's own little chief for the day, 5-year-old Lukasz Czerpak of Garfield, was born with a form of polycistic kidney disease that requires kidney and liver transplants for him to survive.
"He's starting to understand more and more that he's got a condition," said dad Jack Czerpack, who's is in his seventh year as a county corrections officer. "He takes a lot of medication and that's a battle every day.
"But he's pretty much a normal child. He's a happy kid," Czerpack said.
Saudino made Jack's day even better by temporarily locking down the jail because the youngster wanted to see where his father works.
Pretty soon he was telling everyone that he was the new sheriff.
All of the participants began Friday with police escorts from their schools to their local departments, where each was sworn in as chief and then given a tour of headquarters.
The entourages then headed to the courthouse steps for a massive photo op before a full procession to lunch for the families and law enforcement officials.
"If you look around, you'll see some of the same faces and just as many smiles on police as the kids," Saudino told Daily Voice. "It enriches all of us for what we see on a daily basis. It's a positive thing and it feels good."
Fairview Police Chief Martin Kahn couldn't have agreed more.
"We just aren’t all about enforcing laws and locking up criminals," he said. "It brings other aspects of what police work and community policing are truly about.
"When I look back some day at highlights in my career I could talk about big cases and great arrests," Kahn said, "but there is nothing bigger and better than days like this -- days where you can reach out and touch a child’s life.
"It keeps you grounded as a person and humbles you."
SEE PHOTO CAPTIONS ABOVE FOR MORE.
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