Ernesto Bravo Chavez credits his ability to lead a normal, healthy life to a man he never met; and the sixth grader is expressing his gratitude while paying tribute to his lifesaver during this year’s Rose Parade.
In 2005, Gabriel Barajas, 22, was killed in a freeway crash three months after returning home from his second tour in Iraq. His kidney happened to be a match for Chavez, who had been on dialysis for nearly two years before doctors found a match.
"I think he’s a hero to me," Ernesto said. "He just saved me."
Barajas’ brother, Rodolfo, recalls a man who survived two deployments and was a member of the Special Forces team that captured Saddam Hussein.
"At least through [Ernesto], my brother still sort of lives," said Rodolfo Barajas.
And Ernesto’s mother echoed the sentiment: She said that because of the veteran’s kidney, her own son was reborn. And in that moment, the two families were forever connected.
On Thursday, they helped other relatives of donors and organ recipients put the finishing touches on the Donate Life float, now in its 10th year at the Pasadena parade.
Ernesto and his mother, along with Rodolfo and his son, Gabriel, created a floragraph (pictured below) which will adorn the float. The memorial portraits made of natural materials have become a tradition on the Donate Life Rose Parade float.
Gabriel’s image and those of 72 other organ donors will be featured on the float. Thirty-one organ recipients will be riding along, including Ernesto.
"Our float really represents a national community that's committed to inspiring others to save lives," said Bryan Stewart, vice president of communication for OneLegacy and the committee chair for the Donate Life float.
The float symbolizes the emotional roller coaster these families experience daily.
"We go on journeys of the hearts which take us from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows and everywhere in between," Stewart said.
Donate Life will contribute one of 42 floats slated to take part at this year's parade on New Year's Day. Tickets to the Southern California New Year's event are $10 each and are free for children under 5 years old.