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No. 50,000 for Make-A-Wish fulfills cowboy dream

August 28, 1997

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A rough-and-tumble cowboy has headed out for Montana. Cattle rustlers there should be on the lookout for his trademark black hat, swirling lasso and a few chocolate cake stains on his shirt.

With strains of ``El Paso″ playing in the background, 4-year-old Aaron Alexander set out over the horizon Wednesday for the sprawling Selkirk Ranch in Dillon, Mont., courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Stricken since birth with sickle cell anemia, the San Francisco boy became the 50,000th child to have his wish granted by the Phoenix-based organization, which has 81 active U.S. chapters.

Since 1980, the foundation has granted wishes to children under 18 who have life-threatening illnesses. The number of requests has increased each year, with 6,490 granted in 1996 _ from children who wanted to visit Disneyland to a little boy’s dream of running an ice cream company.

President Herbert Paine said Aaron’s wish was selected because it reflects what the foundation is all about.

``The ones who say `I want to be something.′ They want to aspire. It’s very All-American,″ Paine said. ``Who hasn’t wanted to be a cowboy?″

Aaron wanted to head out to the range ever since a pony ride at a birthday party.

``Hey, that’s my cowboy hat,″ a beaming Aaron said as he smoothed his hat’s brim and eyed his name stamped on the leather band.

Family and friends joined him at San Francisco International Airport for a western-style sendoff.

``I didn’t tell him about the trip too far in advance because I wouldn’t have any peace,″ said Judith Wooley, Aaron’s mother, who will accompany him to Selkirk.

Aaron’s rustic agenda includes greetings by ranch hands and fellow cowboys, a cookout and a meeting with his new sidekick _ a horse named Penny.

``You get to ride the horse,″ Aaron said as he practiced his new lassoing technique on his best friend, Max Jeremiah, 4, who came to see him off.

Sickle cell anemia is a chronic blood disease characterized by joint pain, weakness and swelling. His mother said Aaron had a rough year in 1996. He became very ill and was hospitalized after his arms swelled.

Aaron, who had his bags packed Sunday, said he planned to ``climb trees, ride horses and go fishing.″

But with five days, 88,000 acres of ranch, and all the cowboy grub and gear he can handle, what did he plan to do first?

``Climb,″ Aaron said.

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