LORAIN — Eladio Andujar tried to suppress decades-old memories as he entered 8-year-old Enrique Davila’s hospital room on Tuesday evening.
“I was trying to stay strong,” Andujar said of the moment when he saw the child, unconscious and on life support at the Cleveland Clinic.
Surrounded by Enrique’s family and friends, Andujar, a Lorain officer, pinned the Purple Heart he received on the 8-year-old.
It was only after he stepped back that Andujar realized he was standing in the same room where his 4-year-old son had died 20 years before.
“I saw a replay of everything we went through. … This time I was on the outside looking in,” Andujar said of the November day when his young son died of Hamman-Rich Syndrome. “I was seeing another angle of a family losing a child.”
However, Andujar was able to find a small amount of solace this time in giving Enrique his Purple Heart that Andujar received only a week before for being injured in the line of duty on the Lorain Police Department.
“I was thinking of all of the things (Enrique) has gone through…He’s one of the biggest recipients who should get this (award).”
Enrique died minutes after Andujar gave him the award, after a lifelong battle with chronic liver disease.
Enrique’s father said that the young child did not let that illness deter him from dreaming of becoming a police officer.
“He wanted to help people,” Davila’s father, Ramon, said, adding that Enrique had his own set of handcuffs and a police uniform.
It was a result of this love of law enforcement that Enrique and Andujar met. Nearly a year ago, knowing that Enrique’s health was failing, the boy’s grandparents called Andujar, an old friend of theirs, to meet the 7-year-old.
“He was grinning from ear to ear,” Andujar said, describing how he took Enrique for a 45-minute-long ride in a police car to show him the sirens and lights. “He was such a happy kid.”
For Andujar’s family, “happy” is the perfect way to describe Enrique.
“He enjoyed life, even though his health was failing,” Enrique’s grandfather said.
Enrique’s father said Enrique loved what many 8-year-old boys love: his family, sharks and the Cleveland Indians.
“He loved sports. I played with him one-on-one,” Ramon said, adding that his son loved the Indians and the Pittsburgh Steelers. “But he would tolerate the Browns for his Papi.”
Enrique’s large, tight-knit family was also a source of strength and comfort for the child. They often went on trips to the park, petting zoos and the aquarium where Enrique got to see his favorite animal — the shark.
On Friday, Ramon said, the family hopes to come together again for what would have been Enrique’s ninth birthday.
Two days after his death, Ramon reflected on his son’s life with pride.
“I am honored that I was his father. I need to fill his shoes,” he said.
Enrique’s life and early death touched more lives than just his family members. For Andujar, it was the memory of a 20-year-old loss coupled with the loss of a child he had come to admire that came as such a difficult blow.
“It was a long ride home,” he said.