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July 24, 2014

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Young Iraq War veteran to be remembered for lives he saved after his death

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MONA SHIELD PAYNE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Army Veteran Gabriel Barajas’ U.S. Army service portrait is on display during the celebration of his organ donation at the offices of the Nevada Donor Network, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. As part of a special-forces unit, Barajas assisted in the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq on Dec. 14, 2003.

Gabriel Barajas

Wearing her son's military jacket, Gabriella Barajas holds a portrait of her son Army Veteran Gabriel Barajas created of sand, which will be displayed on the Donate Life's Rose Bowl parade float, during the celebration of his organ donation at the offices of the Nevada Donor Network Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Launch slideshow »

For more than two years Gabriel Barajas fought in Iraq, participating in critical missions like the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Barajas had come through the dangers of armed conflict to see his family again, but in a cruel twist of fate, was struck and killed by a car in 2004 when he stopped on a California highway to change a flat tire.

Dead at 21, he’d no longer be able to watch wrestling with his brother, Francisco; he’d no longer smile and he’d tell no more jokes. But the life that once made him vibrant was given to others in greater need. A man who had always helped people did so one last time, not with his actions or words, but with his eyes, kidneys, liver and heart.

Barajas’ organ donor status helped heal a 3-year-old boy who was struggling with complications from his dialysis treatments. He was one of the lucky ones.

About 116,000 people are in need of transplants nationally. The number of people in need of a transplant in Nevada is harder to pinpoint. The state only accommodates kidney transplants, and those in need of other organs must travel elsewhere.

The need for donations and the impact they can have can sometimes be overlooked, said Joseph Ferreira, president and CEO of the Nevada Donor Network.

“I think very seldom do we talk about the subject and death,” he said. “This kind of event helps spread the message about that critical need.”

The gifts that came from Barajas helped save the lives of four people, and restored the eyesight to two others.

Barajas will be honored with 71 others on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float during the New Year's Day parade in Pasadena, Calif.

“We were shocked. We didn’t think anyone would ever know what he did,” his brother Francisco said.

His family, who lives in Las Vegas, is happy that the nation will get a chance to see what gifts their son has given. His father, Rudy, tells him about it at his grave every weekend, and he remembers when his son was just a boy.

“He was so cute. ‘I don’t believe you’re my son,’” he’d say. ‘”Maybe you were switched at the hospital.’”

Each weekend he places all different kinds of flowers where his son rests. He doesn’t like the roses, Rudy Barajas said. They always wither the fastest.

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