As Chad Consuegra left his meeting with President Reagan in the Oval Office, he encountered a phalanx of reporters hovering outside the West Wing entrance to the White House.
His father pushed the wheelchair-bound boy out to the driveway, smiling and giving him a gentle pat on the head.
Chad's business at the White House was uncomplicated: He is 7 years old and extremely ill with bone cancer and had one wish -- to meet President Reagan. Yesterday afternoon, the president obliged.
How did you feel meeting the president, he was asked.
Chad looked up soberly at the faces and microphones and cameras around him and considered the question. "Nervous," he answered.
And how did the Oval Office look?
Again, he paused to think. "Oval," he confirmed.
Chad wore a navy suit and tie to his meeting with the president and brought his family, including his 4-year-old brother, Erik, and 2-year-old sister, Brittany. With his wide, serious eyes and quiet, sober manner, there is little about him that seems childlike. Still, he would occasionally flash a grin full of growing teeth, revealing the 7-year-old in him. His head is almost bare from biweekly chemotherapy sessions administered at Children's Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where he lives. One of his legs was amputated two weeks after the diagnosis of bone cancer was made in October.
"Up to that, he was very healthy, very athletic," said his mother, Sharon Consuegra, 29, holding a bouquet of flowers given her by a well-wisher. Asked how ill her son is, Consuegra answered, "Very ill. . . . He knows he has cancer. When we talk about the future, it includes him."
In his hands Chad clutched a blue box with the presidential seal, a gift from the president. He removed the top to reveal what was inside: a jar of jellybeans. Consuegra also had a gift for the president -- a jar of jellybeans.
"Basically, they exchanged jellybeans," said Rep. Michael Dewine (R-Ohio), who also was there. "They both had a good laugh. Chad, like any 7-year-old seeing the president, was a little bashful."
Chad, according to Dewine, asked Reagan if he did any homework, and the president pointed to a big stack of papers on his desk. "He said, 'You're a brave young man and I've been looking forward to meeting you,' " Dewine quoted the president.
Chad's wish was arranged by the Special Wish Foundation of Dayton. The foundation, which tries to grant the wishes of critically ill Ohio children, called Dewine, who immediately contacted the White House on Feb. 1 and requested the meeting. Dewine also arranged for free rooms at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, and Lasting Impression, a limousine service, provided free transportation for the family's stay here until Thursday.
Back at the hotel, Chad turned photographer. With his sister sitting on his lap, Chad snapped pictures of his father, another photographer and any other interesting subjects he could find.
Asked why he wanted to meet President Reagan, he answered only, "I wanted to."
His parents think it's because his father, an Air Force lieutenant, talked to him about the president. "He had a lot of questions about what I was doing when I was flying," said Ed Consuegra, 29. "I tried to relate it to our country and our president." Ed Consuegra had a few words for the president, too. "I mentioned that we were very thankful that he'd restored the dream and the magic of the presidency for our children."
While he's here, Chad will get the grand tour: "He's going to the FBI and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. This is a great town for kids," Dewine said. He also plans to take the family to the Capitol and let the children sit in the speaker's chair.
But Chad has another special wish: "We're going to a swimming pool," he said beaming. "Tonight's a swimming night. I like to dive." He said he spent a lot of time diving at his grandmother's pool. "I like to dive off the high-dive," he said, smiling deliciously.
However, the Consuegra family said they had no idea where they could go swimming in Washington in February.
There were more questions for Chad. How does he like being in Washington? "Fine," he said, then added, "I like the Capitol."
Reporters scribbled away. Chad had traded his camera for a He-Man toy. "Done?" he asked the reporters.
One more question: What's his favorite subject in school?
He mused for a moment. "Going outside and playing," he answered.