Don died in 2007 at age 12 of pneumonia caused by a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection, but he is far from forgotten.
“He loved it out here,” his father, Carlos Don Sr. said. “He made his first trip out here when he was 9 months old.”
Don raced motocross in front of crowds totaling 70,000 at times and was also a national and state football champion. The family regularly visits the dunes.
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“I like it because we’re here a lot. It’s like he’s here with us,” sister Raquel Don, 15, said tearfully.
More than 100 family and friends came out to commemorate his birthday at the dunes Sunday.
“He was just a great kid. He touched everyone he met in some way or another,” grandmother Vicky Miller explained.
Some immediate family arrived earlier in the week while others came in over the weekend. The family planned to let go of 18 floating lanterns in the dunes later in the evening Sunday.
“He was one of the kindest persons you’ll ever meet,” mother Amber Don said. “He was good at everything he did, very charismatic. He was a role model even to the adults and very loved by everyone he met.”
Carlos was healthy when he left for a youth camp, but when he was picked up from school, his parents said he appeared ill and was soon in urgent care at the hospital.
Within 48 hours of being admitted, he was placed on multiple machines to keep him alive for the next two weeks until he died Feb. 4, 2007. His parents said they were grateful for the chance to say goodbye to their son.
“We never left, but there was nothing we could do,” his mother said. “We tried to hang out with him as long as possible.”
Amber Don has since worked with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to promote research and awareness of the infectious disease.
“He was like my son before my own son was born,” Don’s godfather Jimmy Zazas. “If it wasn’t for him, his parents would not have done what they have to do, to push for more and more research.”
“A lot of good has come out of it,” Amber Don said in agreement.
Carlos Don Sr. said that after his ATV’s motor blew up before he even rode at the dunes this week, he felt his son was watching out for him.
“He knew what I had in mind to show off and was taking care of his dad, as he always did,” he said. “He was our superstar.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org