Go behind the badge with Lynnwood’s new police chief, age 7

Luca Keogh has undergone 17 brain surgeries. Now, he’s the first Chief for a Day in the city.

Chief for a Day Luca Keogh, 7, hugs K-9 Zando while officer Joe Dickinson laughs as they meet after a City Council meeting on Monday in Lynnwood. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Chief for a Day Luca Keogh, 7, hugs K-9 Zando while officer Joe Dickinson laughs as they meet after a City Council meeting on Monday in Lynnwood. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

LYNNWOOD — He’s the youngest police chief in Lynnwood history. He’s the first, or at least the first in recent memory, to take the oath with his hair spiked in a mohawk, giggling, in a wheelchair with Spider-Man decals.

Don’t let his size fool you. Chief Luca Keogh, 7, runs a tight ship — he’s tough, but fair. Unpolished shoes earn cadets pushups. As chief, Luca said, he plans to clean up the department. He’d like to hire his mom. Oh, and he’d also like a ride in a police car.

Luca was named Chief for a Day as part of a statewide event for kids with serious medical problems to “forget about their illnesses if only for a day.” This is the first year Lynnwood police have participated. It culminates with a convention in Kent, with little sheriffs and chiefs from 33 agencies around the state.

In the world of adults, most police chiefs might feel at least an ounce of pressure, with the safety of a city on the line. Not Luca. Is there anything that’s hard about being a junior chief?

“No,” he answered.

You don’t have to do any paperwork. You make a lot of new friends, like the police dogs and their handlers. (He and his sisters have grown tight with Zando.) You dress in a sharp uniform, get a junior chief badge and make an appearance here and there. You wave to the adoring public at a Monday meeting of the Lynnwood City Council. You get to flip on the lights and sirens.

It’s a sweet gig.

Luca has faced bigger challenges. His mother, Sarah, was 23 weeks pregnant with her second child, Luca, when doctors told her something was not right — but they weren’t sure what it was. They lived in Ireland, south of Dublin, at the time. Days later, they learned he had spina bifida, an incomplete closing of the backbone that can lead to stillbirth. About 1 in 1,000 babies worldwide have the malformation.

Luca was born by cesarean section Feb. 15, 2011. His first surgery came two days later. Within a week, he had a shunt to treat his hydrocephalus, a condition that leads to excessive fluid buildup in the brain. That shunt broke. He’s now on shunt No. 8.

Total, he has undergone 28 surgeries, Sarah Keogh said. Seventeen of those have been brain surgeries.

“There are three neurosurgeons in Ireland, and they all had a go,” said Sarah, who talks a mile a minute with an Irish accent. “They’d done everything they could do for him at home. They were at the stage where they were like: There’s nothing else we could do.”

Luca has tethered cord syndrome and slit ventricle syndrome, a rare complication of hydrocephalus. At times he was the first or the youngest ever in Ireland to undergo certain procedures.

His knack for beating the odds turned him into something of a media darling. He learned to crawl. He learned to take steps in a walker. British tabloids ran headlines about him.

“Miracle lad, 3, out of wheelchair.”

“Luca who’s walking.”

“Doctors told us Luca wouldn’t crawl, now he’s starting to walk.”

Each surgery has left Luca needing time to recover and rebuild muscle. Physical therapy in Ireland was 45 minutes at a time for a few weeks, followed by an eight-week break. It wasn’t enough, according to his mother.

So two years ago when his father’s employer, Amazon, offered a job in the Seattle area, the Keoghs moved to Lynnwood.

Luca gets four days a week of therapy here: cooking, swimming, transferring in and out of his chair. He can be insatiable. When three hours are up, he’ll ask: “Is it over already?”

Since he was named police chief, he’s given his officers two tours of his therapy center. They’ve returned the favor and guided him through the police station twice. He has photos of himself on the back of a Lynnwood police motorbike. One cellphone video, from a Coffee with a Cop event, shows him taking a few steps toward officers, with the support of his walker. He’s so proud.

Luca’s family is part of the police family now, Police Chief Tom Davis said.

“He really has a key to the department,” Davis said.

Fortunately, that’s a figure of speech.

On a tour of the jail, Luca’s curiosity about pressing buttons got the better of him. He wanted to open the doors.

Luca didn’t always want to be a cop. He loves aquatic therapy so much he figured he could make a good swimming teacher. Then this summer he watched the Blue Angels doing acrobatics in the air, and he realized maybe he could be a Blue Angel, too.

Last week at Seahawks training camp, he decided he wanted to be a football player. (Could he finally fix their offensive line?)

But now he’s pretty happy being chief. He hasn’t caught any bad guys yet, though, he said. Maybe they all scrammed when they heard who’s in charge.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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