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During the event, Chris’ mother was reunited with several individuals who cared for her son, including his doctor. Chris passed away from leukemia at St. Joseph’s in 1980. Members of the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS), whose fellow officers made Chris’ final wish come true, were also on hand.
The event included the unveiling of a permanent display featuring photographs and mementos of the well-loved patient, remembered fondly as the “Little Bubble Gum Trooper.” The exhibit will hang in the halls of St. Joseph’s, alongside other artifacts of the hospital’s rich community history.
Chris was just four years old when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Originally from Illinois, he and his mother relocated to Phoenix to be closer to family and the world-class pediatric care available at St. Joseph’s. Over the next three years, Chris captured the hearts of St. Joseph’s staff, including pediatric hematologist-oncologist Paul Baranko, MD, who attended today’s ceremony. Sister Madonna Marie Bolton, St. Joseph’s historian and the impetus behind the display, developed a close relationship with the family.
“Everyone loved Christopher. He was such a sweet boy,” she recalls. “It’s incredible to think of the impact his legacy has had on children throughout the world 35 years later.”
Just days before losing his battle to leukemia, Chris saw a lifelong dream come true: he was named an honorary highway patrol officer, just like his idols on the popular television show CHiPs. The Arizona DPS provided the little trooper with a uniform and badge, and named him the first and only honorary highway patrolman in the organization’s history. DPS officers even accompanied the boy’s body to his final resting place in Illinois and granted him a full fallen officer’s funeral. The experience inspired those involved – including Chris’ mother, Linda Bergendahl-Pauling – to create a charity that would help make other children’s dreams a reality.
“Our experience with St. Joseph’s was wonderful throughout the years. They should take pride in this display because the hospital played a large role in the conception of Make-A-Wish,” says Linda. “I hope that other hospital visitors will see Christopher’s story and remember that just one person can make a difference. Significant things happen in people’s lives for a reason.”
Christopher’s story is just one of many that has touched the community since St. Joseph’s was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1895. The hospital celebrated 120 years on March 19. — St. Joseph’s