“Welcome aboard, sir,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said after administering the oath before family and friends gathered in Bartow County Superior Court Judge Carey Nelson’s courtroom.
Presented for consideration as an honorary deputy by Lt. Mike Pressley, Warren finished the year out at Emerson Elementary School with his signature honor roll status Friday, but faces yet another heart surgery in July, a battle he’s fought since birth.
Pressley attended school with Warren’s father, Wayne Thacker, and spoke recently with Warren’s grandmother, Quinn Hood, while shopping in Publix.
“Warren has had to have three open heart surgeries since birth. ... Next month he’ll actually be facing one more heart surgery,” Pressley said. “A couple of weeks ago, Quinn was telling me this, ‘You know, Warren has expressed a great interest in law enforcement ...’ I said, ‘Why don’t you bring him by the courthouse one day? I’d love to meet him.’
“So a week or so later, I was back in the grocery store and turns out Quinn had stopped by one day and I happened to be out of the office. I told her, I said, ‘Quinn, let’s do this real simple. Let’s do it again. Just give me a call when you want me in the office.’”
The two talked on, with Hood telling Pressley about Warren’s academic achievements — he’s an A-B honor roll member — and his compassion for those closest to him.
“Warren is constantly, constantly checking on granny. How’s granny’s day? How’s granny doing? That really touched me,” Pressley said. “I got to thinking about it. I thought, ‘You know, three surgeries, fourth one coming up — that’s courage. A-B honor roll at school, that’s determination, and then concern for others.’ I was thinking about how those three qualities would be admirable for anyone to possess, and it occurred to me that those three qualities also, from my experience, are the three qualities that make a fine deputy sheriff. So I called Sheriff Millsap and told him about Warren and his accomplishments and achievements, and Sheriff Millsap immediately said, ‘We’ve got to get that boy and make him one of our own.’”
For Millsap, the opportunity to provide happiness to Warren was a blessing all its own.
“This is just something that tears at your heartstrings. This little man has been through three heart surgeries and got another major one coming up. You know, anything we can do to take his mind off what he’s fixing to go through ... This is just something, a little something,” he said. “... It just makes you feel like a million dollars when you see the look [in] his eyes and the smile on his face. It was awesome.”
Born with truncus arteriosus, Warren will undergo his fourth surgery in July, one of the most serious to date and the last until he’s well into his 20s.
“He’s missing a valve. This new surgery, he’s getting a new valve — he’s getting one replaced. He has a lot of valve problems and his heart is enlarged. ... This should be the last one he has for about 18 years,” said Warren’s mother, Regina Thacker.
According to the Mayo Clinic, truncus arteriosus is a rare, congenital heart defect that's present at birth. A baby diagnosed with truncus arteriosus has one large blood vessel that leads out of the heart. Normally, two separate vessels come out of the heart.
“In addition, the two lower chambers of the heart are missing a portion of the wall that divides them. As a result of truncus arteriosus, oxygen-poor blood that should go to the lungs and oxygen-rich blood that should go to the rest of the body are mixed together. This creates severe circulatory problems,” the Mayo Clinic website states. “If left untreated, truncus arteriosus can be fatal. Surgery to repair truncus arteriosus is generally successful, especially if the repair occurs before your baby is 2 months old.”
Regina Thacker said Warren enjoys ATVs and video games, but he fell in love with law enforcement.
“It so special to us because he really is so interested in law enforcement. For years now, that’s what he’s said he’s going to do,” she said. “Just look at him, he’s so happy. It just means the world to him.”
Warren’s interest leans more toward the exciting aspects of law enforcement.
“I just got interested when I started to watch high speed pursuits and sheriff’s patrolling,” he said.
Saying “it feels good” to be an honorary deputy, Warren said his first order of business would be “to be identified in a high speed pursuit.”
Warren is not the first honorary deputy — the BCSO celebrated a cancer patient in the early 2000s.
“Things like this happen sometimes,” Millsap said, “and it just makes you feel good to do a little something to help these kids and lift his spirits because I don’t know what he’s going to have to go through, and I pray to God I never do.”