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Twenty-six days ago, Chris Rahimian set out with his life savings to buy a car.

Today - a van, a generous gift, a stint of stardom and hundreds of cards and letters later - he finally has one.On Thursday, Chris bought a metallic blue 1989 Honda Accord.

The car, in a sense, is a gift from strangers across the United States. It represents an outburst of kindness. And it all started when Chris, 16, gave of himself.

On July 9, Chris went to an American Cancer Society automobile auction with $1,500 to shop for a car. What he saw was a woman in need.

Mary Hendricks, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, wept because she couldn't afford a wheelchair-accessible van. Deeply touched, Chris sacrificed his savings and made the winning $3,700 bid.

His mother, Bonnie Rahimian, paid the difference between what Chris had and what he bid. Then Chris gave the van to Hendricks. Some people applauded, some people cried when they learned the rest of the story.

The van had belonged to Chris' father, John Rahimian, 53, who died May 23 of amyotrophic lateral

sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease. The Rahimians had donated the van in his memory for sale at the auction.

After Chris' story appeared in The Star, people responded, asking how they could help Chris buy a car. Chris appeared on dozens of radio talk shows and received hundreds of letters and checks.

One man opened a trust fund for Chris at Valley View State Bank. It had $6,000 in it when Chris last checked two weeks ago. Kansas City Royals' executive George Brett helped secure a $1,500 credit for a car at the Jay Wolfe automobile dealers.

Chris became a hero.

"I still think it was a miracle," Hendricks said, referring to Chris' generous act. "I really think that Heavenly Father was behind it."

Just as the van gave freedom to Chris' father, it has liberated Hendricks, allowing her to go to the store or movie theater.

"You don't realize how hard it is to do simple things until you can't do them," she said. "The van has given me my life back."

That's all the thanks Chris needs to hear.

"As long as the focus is on ALS, maybe they can earn more money," Chris said. "If we can find a cure for this horrible disease, that would be great, because there are so many people who die each year."

Donations to area charities, including the Keith Worthington chapter of the ALS Association, have increased since Chris' story. Much of the money goes to medical research.

That strikes a special chord for the Rahimian family, because the kind of ALS that killed Chris' father is hereditary. Chris has a 50 percent chance of getting the disease.

"I lost my husband to this disease, and I don't want to lose my son, too," Bonnie Rahimian said.

The calls from radio talk shows have stopped. The letters of thanks and recognition - more than 600 of them - no longer stuff his mailbox. And donations to his trust fund have fallen from their frenzied pace.

"His 15 minutes of fame is about gone," Bonnie Rahimian said. "He's in the last 30 seconds."

Yet that's not necessarily bad, Chris says. He never asked for publicity. He was just trying to help someone.

On Thursday, Chris spent the day doing laundry and normal household chores. The night before, he picked out a car from Jay Wolfe Honda. Glancing past the new Civics, overlooking the cars with leather seats and bypassing a used BMW, he settled on a used four-door Accord. And he is going to write thank-you notes to each of the several hundred people who sent him a card or money.