KENNEWICK — Seventeen-year-old Alfredo Barajas won't live to see 18 candles on his birthday cake.
The Kamiakin High School special needs student has fought a cardiac condition most of his life through surgery and medication. But he soon will lose his last battle to an aortic aneurysm.
"He needed heart surgery last summer. But when his mom was told he likely wouldn't survive the surgery, she decided not to have it done," said Pam Kirkpatrick, Kamiakin's school nurse.
Alfredo is receiving hospice care at home, and a priest recently visited his family to help his mother explain to him and his three siblings that his condition was terminal.
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Alfredo, who always had wanted to join the Army, told them, "I may not be a soldier, but I'm a soldier fighting this battle."
Maria Barajas, a single mother, is not working while she cares for her dying son. She also is taking care of three other children, Luiz, 15, and Gustavo, 10, and Elizabeth, 4.
Alfredo's Kamiakin classmates didn't know how ill Alfredo was until Jan. 6. And that is when the Leadership Class immediately went into action.
They arranged for collection cans at Dutch Bros. Coffee on Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Center Boulevard in Kennewick. On Saturday, they collected money at the basketball game against Kennewick High School.
"Last I heard, they'd raised $1,014," Kirkpatrick said.
More fundraisers are in the works.
Through a translator, Maria Barajas told the Herald on Wednesday that she is beyond grateful to the people helping with emotional and financial support even though they don't know her.
People reaching out to her makes her feel less alone.
"I know I'm not the only mom with a sick child," she said. "I'm grateful for anything. Every penny, every dollar helps, just thoughts and prayers help."
Maria Barajas said her son is sleeping a lot now and hasn't eaten much in the past few days. His face is quite swollen, and you can't see his eyes.
His brothers, she said, are finding it difficult to go to school.
"They don't want to be at school if something happens to him," she said.
They are coping by just being in the moment with him, she said. They don't talk about what is happening or him dying. They are enjoying their time with him, she said.
Kirkpatrick first met the Barajas family when Alfredo attended the Life Skills class at Highlands Middle School in Kennewick. He was there for four years while Kirkpatrick was the school nurse.
"So I've known the family a long time. Maria is a great mom with the nicest kids," she said.
Alfredo only was able to attend classes at Kamiakin for 10 days before becoming too ill to go to school.
But Maria Buxbaum, a counselor at Kamiakin, remembers him being "bubbly, with a big smile and cute wave. He was a happy kid and a lot of it was because he was at school. His mom told me he always had his backpack ready and he was a good student."
"I think he loved school because it made him feel normal. His classmates, his teachers didn't know about his heart condition, so they treated him like everyone else," she said.
Buxbaum and Kirkpatrick have been visiting the family sporadically since early December. Just before Christmas, they checked in to see if Alfredo was well enough to attend holiday events at the school.
"When we got there, he was sitting in a lawn chair in the living room, wearing a coat, gloves and hat because the house was so cold. His feet were swollen the size of footballs," Kirkpatrick said. "He'd had a doctor appointment three days before, but his feet hurt so bad he could not walk to the car."
Money is tight at the Barajas household. It's not uncommon for everyone in the house to wear their coat and gloves indoors.
"Yet she didn't ask for help. She asked for ideas," Buxbaum said.
Kirkpatrick, a former hospice nurse, knew Alfredo desperately needed a hospital bed to keep his head and feet elevated and prevent his lungs from filling with fluid. But it took three days to get it.
"I did not think he would make Christmas," she said.
Over the school's winter break, Kirkpatrick contacted various church and charity groups who made sure the family had food and gifts for the holiday.
Then she made the hardest calls, those to the funeral homes. She explained the situation and asked what they could do for the family. The least expensive burial she could find was $8,800 and that did not cover the cost of a cemetery plot, which runs another $2,700.
It's money the Barajas family doesn't have. But it won't be because the Leadership Class and ASB at Kamiakin aren't trying.
All of the money raised will go directly to Hillcrest Memorial Center in Kennewick where owner Blaze Titus has promised to match it to help defray the cost of Alfredo's burial.