"When we're in PE changing, they're like, “How come you have the scar? I'm like, “because I had a kidney transplant," said Ernesto Bravo Chavez.
The healthy 11-year-old is a sixth grader at Raymond Cree Middle School in Palm Springs. Sick at age three, he was diagnosed with a kidney disease.
Ernesto’s mother Rosario Chavez says it was difficult watching him suffer while in need of a kidney transplant. Ten months of dialysis later at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Chavez received the best gift of all on her birthday -- the call of a compatible kidney for her son.
Ernesto’s donor, Gabriel Barajas, of Los Angeles, was a part of the Special Forces team that captured Sadam Hussein. Barajas returned from three tours in Iraq when he was killed in a car crash and gave Ernesto a second chance to live.
"He's a hero to all of us," said Ernesto.
"To understand what his disease was and to also understand that someone died in order for him to live, it's truly touching to see that in a 12-year-old," said Julie Humeston, the director of transplants at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Come New Year's Day, Ernesto and 30 other organ recipients selected from across the nation, will raise awareness and bring hope to thousands as riders on the Donate Life float at the 2013 Rose Parade in Pasadena.
"I feel nervous because it's my first time doing it," he said.
The float serves as a memorial to organ and tissue donors. It’s also an inspiration for others to do the same.
"That day, for some, is kind of tough because emotions come back for the ones that they've lost, but it's also the excitement for them to see the gift that was given in the life of Ernesto," said Humeston.
Ernesto’s transplant surgeon and LLUMC family visited the desert to send him off.
"Its so emotional to see one of my kids, one of my patients go all of the way and be probably one more hero that we have," said transplant surgeon Dr. Pedro Baron.
Thanking God for their guardian angel Gabriel, Eernesto's family never considered becoming organ donors. Now, they'd like to return the favor and wish others would become donors to help save a life too.
Ernesto’s message to his donor and brave soldier, "I'd say thank you for the kidney. I'm better now. I can do sports, anything."
He and his family will help build the Donate Life float during the next few weekends, including decorating a floragraph portrait of Barajas, which will be adorn on the float.
Bravo says the Barajas are apart of his family now. He sees them about twice a year.
Ernesto will be old enough just in time to ride in the parade as he will celebrate his 12th birthday on Dec. 20.