Navarra: Kid who captured hearts dies

Austen Thibault, The Union Democrat /

A young immigrant from the Philippines who captured the hearts of many in Tuolumne County as a child burn victim has died.

Edison Navarra, 23, suffered a fatal seizure Monday at his friend's home in Sacramento.

Navarra was born Jan. 18, 1990, in Tacloban City in the Republic of the Philippines. He lived in an orphanage in Manila after being abandoned by his parents and intentionally burned by a cousin.

Ulysses Verceles, of Sonora, was visiting relatives in the Philippines in 1999 when he decided to visit a nearby orphanage. He met the 9-year-old boy, who was sitting by himself at lunch and displaying obvious burns.

The director of the orphanage told Verceles a cousin had wrapped Edison in a blanket, doused it with gasoline and set it on fire with a blowtorch.

When Verceles returned to the United States, he approached Ron Cole, president of the Mother Lode Shrine Club. The two made arrangements with Shriners Hospital for Children in Sacramento to get the boy free treatment and surgeries he could not have gotten otherwise.

With donated tickets from Philippine Airlines, they brought Edison and his guardian, Honorio "Ogie" Santos, to Sonora. They lived with Verceles while Shriners Hospital treated the boy.

Along with treatment, Edison got another thing he may have never gotten otherwise: The American experience. The boy was described as "grinning from ear to ear" as, for the first time, he watched "Batman" on television, met Santa Claus at Christmastime and ate at McDonald's.

He underwent numerous surgeries, including skin grafts that would lessen the appearance of his injuries.

His guardian, Santos, was there for him through it all. He was there for Navarra's fourth-grade schooling when he arrived, with the boy still needing to learn to read and write. His teacher, Gretchen Dryden, taught him these critical tasks - and also married Santos.

Navarra returned alone to the Philippines for a few years, then moved to Sacramento. He was living in San Francisco with Santos most recently.

Shriners Hospital could no longer offer its services after Navarra passed age 21 - though a plastic surgeon there voluntarily finished an operation to give him prosthetic ears.

San Francisco General Hospital picked up the slack and continued free care, specifically for neurological treatment, when Navarra began having seizures a few years ago.

Despite his hardships, Navarra was attending San Francisco City College and taking general education and computer classes up until his death.

He is survived by his younger brother, Kim Navarra, of the Philippines.

A viewing and Rosary will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Terzich and Wilson Funeral Home, 225 E. Rose St., Sonora. Mass will be celebrated 11:30 a.m. at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 127 W. Jackson St., Sonora.

He will be buried at Dambacher Mountain Memorial at 22394 Lyons Bald Mountain Road in Sonora.

Terzich and Wilson Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

Donations may be made in his memory to Shriners Hospital, 2425 Stockton Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95817.

Contact Austen Thibault at or 588-4525.

The Union Democrat
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