Christmas tree fire burn victim improving

March 7, 2008 7:30:23 PM PST
A five-year-old Richmond boy is struggling to recover from burns he suffered in a horrific fire. Friday, he and his family ventured outside the burn unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to thank everyone for their financial and spiritual support.

Julian Zaragoza posed with his family for a picture while his older brother gave him a gentle kiss. Julian has burns over 70 percent of his body.

On December 21st, the Christmas tree in the family's Richmond home caught fire. Julian and his twin brother, Francisco, were trapped inside, rescued by a neighbor. Francisco died on Christmas Day.

At a news conference Friday, there was no hiding the pain and no need to explain the physical or emotional heartache. It was a time to give thanks.

"There have been contributions coming from all over the country, almost every city in the Bay Area," says Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia.

When you look at Julian you know the family's story of struggle and survival is just beginning.

"He's had multiple surgeries already and we're still working on getting coverage of the scalp area as well as beginning reconstructive procedures on his face," says Dr. Yvonne Karanas, a burn unit physician.

Doctors say Julian is an extraordinary patient. He's working hard at his recovery, and despite the pain involved with changing his burn dressing, he always tells the nurses, thank you.

Without his twin, Julian is now leaning more on his 11-year-old brother, Pedro.

"I talk to him, he's always telling me, 'I love you,' and he's always wanting to give me a hug and every time they want to change his dressing from his head he always tells me to give him my hand and he just closes his eyes," says Pedro.

For a family who has lost everything, their strength and character has inspired strangers to try and help.

"In 10 minutes we raised $715 which more than covered that first month's rent," says Linda Hellman, a realtor and donor.

The need though is long-term, and so is the healing. There are dozens of surgeries for years to come. Julian should go home in about a month.

"He's laughing, you know. He asked me, 'daddy, I want a full burrito or torta,' or other things... I like that," says Donaldo Arqueta Rodriguez, Julian's father.

The people that have come to know the family are asking for donations of any size. The family itself is taking one day at a time and only pausing to give thanks.

Julian's long-term care will create an enormous financial challenge for the family. They could use your help.

Anyone wishing to donate to a trust account to help with Julian's long-term care can send donations to:

Arueta Rodriquez Fund
c/o Mechanics Bank
3170 Hilltop Mall Road
Richmond, CA 94806.

There will also be updates on Julian's progress at Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia's Web site at