Doctors fixed Ethan Fiore's ailing heart more than a year ago, when he was just 8 years old.
Now, his future is wide open.
News anchor? He's considered it. Veterinarian? Quite possibly. Then again, he might just indulge his love of reading by owning or working in a bookstore.
The point, said the boy and his mother, Heather, is that Ethan can aspire to be anything he wants to be. Just like kids who never had to endure the pain and fright of undergoing a major heart operation.
Inspiration was everywhere Saturday at the "When I Grow Up" event at the UC Davis MIND Institute, where young heart patients and their families gathered to meet and talk to real-life superheroes including doctors, police officers, professional athletes, researchers, musicians and even a beauty queen.
The event, in its fifth year, was sponsored by Angels for Hearts, a nonprofit group devoted to helping children with heart conditions explore endless possibilities. It drew more than 250 youngsters, from toddlers to teenagers, who have suffered severe heart problems and received care at area hospitals.
"We tell these kids that no matter what their limitations, they can persevere and achieve their dreams," said Brian Harris, a Placer County sheriff's deputy who talked to kids about what it is like to be in law enforcement.
"It's great for them to be able to see law enforcement up close, as normal people," Harris said.
Not surprisingly, the children were especially interested in the deputy's partner, canine officer Ego, who sat placidly at his side.
A few tables away, veterinarian Lynn Hendrix displayed coyote and cat skulls and surgical equipment, and entertained questions about her job. Kids offered goldfish crackers to her dog, Jack, who Hendrix disclosed has a heart murmur but is doing fine.
Miss Teen Sacramento, Mackenzie Starnes, was at the event, wearing her crown and dazzling little princesses who shyly approached her table. News anchor Edie Lambert was there, along with uniformed military men and women, scientists, musicians and a pro golfer, among others.
The scene impressed Katie Hundley, 13.
When she learned she would be facing heart surgery back in 2005, Katie was too preoccupied to think about what she might be when she grew up, she said.
Now, she is healthy, free of heart medications, and even takes a weekly Zumba class. She is entertaining a dream of becoming a fashion designer.
"I don't want to limit myself," Katie said. The event on Saturday, she said, "shows kids that you should try to achieve, and don't let your heart condition hold you back.
"Just live, make your plans and go forward."