When his own son lost a battle with cancer, a grieving dad decided to keep up the fight, working to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.

In 1998, Richard Nares from San Diego got some devastating news: his 3-year-old son, Emilio, was diagnosed with leukemia. After a tough battle including countless hospital visits and treatments, Emilio passed away in 2000, just before his sixth birthday.

Posted by Emilio Nares Foundation on Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nares was devastated—but his grief inspired him to do something incredible. He knew firsthand the difficulties families of cancer patients faced, and that not everyone had the support system he had—and decided to give back.

It’s extremely tough, not just emotionally, but now financially,” he told CNN in 2013. “Sometimes, both parents have to either leave their job or cut back severely. Some … don’t have [an] extra $10 to pay for cafeteria food.”

After returning to Rady Children’s Hospital, where Emilio received treatment, he discovered the biggest thing families needed was transportation, so he started picking up families in his own car and driving them to the hospital.

I was going every day, picking up families all over the county,” he said.

Happy Birthday Emilio! Today, Emilio would have turned 22 years Old! It is because of him and his legacy that we…

Posted by Emilio Nares Foundation on Friday, January 6, 2017

The program grew, and eventually Nares had to hire a driver and create formal transport schedules.

This led to the creation of the Emilio Nares Foundation in 2003, which helps “low-income underserved families meet basic needs.” The foundation continues to provide transportation to patients.

They help me out so much,” Silvia Johnson, a mother of a cancer patient who received rides from the foundation, told CNN.

But Nares didn’t stop there. In June 2018, he started a 1,700-mile run, from Seattle to San Diego, to raise awareness of childhood cancer and raise money for patients. He’ll complete his journey in August.

(Screenshot via KPIX)

Along the way, he’s been stopping at hospitals to give out shirts—but not just any shirts, shirts specially made for cancer patients.

He remembered that Emilio would have to remove his shirt every time he received treatment, so he designed a shirt with snaps in the shoulder to make things easier.

“It just opens up to where they get their chemo or blood drawn,” Nares told KPIX. “It’s such a simple idea because before this shirt they’d have to lift or take their shirt off.”

(Screenshot via KPIX)

Emilio has been gone for 18 years, but he’s left an incredible legacy, inspiring everything his father has done for others.

He really is the force,” Nares told CNN. “It’s still like he’s with me. Like he’s still on my shoulder or still pulling my ear like he used to.”

“My son is with me in my heart and in my mind,” he told KPIX. “He’s motivating me to do more for children.”

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