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He'll have the house special

Five-year-old who has leukemia gets his wish granted for an abode in the sky.

August 14, 2010|By Max Zimbert, max.zimbert@latimes.com
(Roger Wilson )

The slide was too hot for Asher McGarrah on Friday, so instead he'd lob a book of stickers and watch it glide down and land at the base of his tree house.

Moments later, the 5-year-old climbed up the slide, up a ladder, pivoted and dashed into the sleeping quarters on the second floor, where he discovered a nifty cubby for his tree-house tools.

"I like the view," he said, overlooking the single-family home. "I imagine there was an ocean. Sometimes I spy on my parents."

The two-story structure — complete with climbing rope, a slide, a deck and a lounge chair — was presented Friday by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles and the volunteers who made Asher's initial crayon drawing a reality.

"It was Asher's vision; he knew what he wanted," said Mark McGuire, whose company, McGuire Builders Inc., did the construction. "It was perfect, so we gave him a little two-story house."

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The only thing better is that Asher's going back to school in a few weeks, his parents said. He was pulled from a private school in Pasadena more than a year ago because of his chronic myelogenous leukemia, which causes pain in his bones and muscles. The treatment also has painful side effects, said his father, Jim McGarrah.

But his white blood cell count — an indication of his body's ability to fight off infection — is where it should be, and the next few weeks should be full of event planning, McGarrah said.

"School starts, so we'll be preparing for that, and there may be some weekend barbecues," he said. "But we'll be taking it one day at a time and enjoying the good days, and there are more good days than bad."

And if/when there are periods of pain, the tree house makes for an ideal retreat, Cyndi McGarrah said.

"It's a great place. It's very relaxing, and there's a great breeze," she said.

Builders included Asher as a consultant, asking for his advice and what he preferred. Asher was basically a foreman during the roughly one-month design and construction process, his parents said.

"He was adamant — no swings," Cyndi McGarrah said.

But now Asher's pushing to get a television in the house.

"He basically wants to move in there," Jim McGarrah said.

Asher invited guests upstairs Friday, and said his older brother Connor McGarrah and his friends were welcome most any time.

"We have to do what he says," Connor McGarrah said.

Asher added, "Because I'm master of the tree house."

For the family, it's a capstone to a humbling journey, they said. When the Make-A-Wish postcard arrived, they thought Asher's condition was terminal.

"Were we missing something?" Jim McGarrah said.

Wishes are granted to children with "progressive, degenerative or malignant" illnesses that jeopardize the child's life, according to the nonprofit.

The family said the experience has changed them, and they're working to raise money for various charities. Cyndi McGarrah raised nearly $4,000 running a half-marathon this summer, she said.

"You can take life for granted," her husband said. "We're learning to slow down and appreciate every day."

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