For the past six years, after Gunnar Breaux, 12, was diagnosed with a rare and often fatal disease called Job syndrome, his family has struggled to make ends meet.
Gunnar tried to go to school, but his compromised immune system would put him in the hospital for weeks fighting infections that seemed nearly constant. Life grew even harder for the Youngsville family when their car’s transmission broke down two months ago.
But matters got a bit sunnier on Friday.
A dozen or so State Police troopers took him and his family to lunch at Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar on Corporate Boulevard in Baton Rouge. But before the meal was served, the troopers surprised the family with a gift: a box with the keys to a Chevrolet minivan.
Gunnar held the keys in the air while faintly smiling, then walked out to the parking lot where the minivan, complete with a giant bow across the windshield, was parked.
He slid into the driver’s seat while police applauded.
“You all came in just the right time. We were in a bind, and we needed it,” Gunnar’s mother, Angel Breaux, said to police outside.
Gunnar’s father, John Breaux, was overwhelmed.
“It means everything,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The car was donated as part of Grant-a-Wish, a charity program for children with serious illnesses that is run by the nonprofit Louisiana State Troopers Association, said Trooper 1st Class Jared Sandifer, a State Police spokesman. Roadrunner Towing in Baton Rouge supplied the car, Sandifer said.
Angel Breaux said her son has a total of seven doctors, with some in Lafayette and some in New Orleans. Recently, he has been getting weekly blood tests, and he was fighting two infections in the last week alone. Even going outside is a health risk, so he almost always stays indoors.
“We don’t get a lot of stuff because we have to pay the bills and don’t get to go anywhere,” Gunnar said. “It feels good to get that weight off their shoulders.”
Angel Breaux said she hasn’t been able to work outside the home because she needs to look after him. Gunnar can’t even play outside with other kids because of the risks to his health. His inside world centers on TV — he loves reality shows like “Big Brother” and “Survivor” — and PlayStation 3.
The family — Gunnar has a 20-year-old sister and a 5-month-old brother — gets by on his father’s work at a piping material plant near Youngsville in Lafayette Parish.
“You never know when it’s gonna hit him,” said Angel Breaux of how often Gunnar falls ill. “His life is behind four walls.”
But Gunnar does get to travel when he is inside a car. He said he hopes he might one day go to New Orleans Saints games as well as local water parks.
Job syndrome is rare: Fewer than one in a million people have it, according to the Genetics Home Reference website. It leaves an affected person with repeated bouts of pneumonia and skin infections that can leave rashes and blisters. Angel Breaux said the disease is likely fatal within 12 years of diagnosis. Gunnar was diagnosed when he was 6.
The Louisiana State Troopers Association also holds parties for children who have survived cancer through chemotherapy and has an annual golf tournament to raise money from a variety of donors, Sandifer said. The nonprofit heard about Gunnar when a different charity reached out and asked if they could help.