Moreno Valley, CA

Mission Accomplished on Sept. 24, 2022

Gustavo Zarate always knew he wanted to serve in the military. Right after high school he enlisted in the Army joining the 82nd Airborne Division as an Infantryman.

On May 19, 2012, during his first deployment to Afghanistan with the Echo Company, 307th BSB, 1st BCT, 82nd ABN DIV, shrapnel from an improvised explosive device (IED) struck Army Specialist Zarate in his head and body, causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Gustavo’s injuries were so severe, doctors told his family he might not make it and if he did, there was a high chance he may never see, walk, or talk again. After three weeks of being in a coma, Gustavo defied the odds and opened his eyes. From that point, he slowly began to regain function and is now able to walk with assistance. He loves spending time with his three dogs, swimming, playing board games, and keeping up with technology. His brother and caretaker Hector says he is proud of Gustavo for persevering. “If I was in Gustavo’s place, I would be depressed. But he’s not – he’s happy and I really admire him,” he says.

Though Gustavo has made significant progress, he still has not regained his ability to speak, and experiences seizures as a result of his TBI. He can walk short distances on his own, but uses his wheelchair the majority of the time.

Throughout his recovery, Gustavo’s family, especially his parents and Hector, have been at his side. The family previous living space was small. This situation made it hard for Gustavo to maneuver around the home in his wheelchair, and routine tasks like bathing and accessing the kitchen were challenging. Hector says his brother benefits greatly from their specially adapted custom Homes For Our Troops home with an open floor plan and roll-in shower.

Hector and his family wish Gustavo could fully express his thoughts and emotions, but they know he is happy to have a second chance at life. When they ask Gustavo how he feels about his specially adapted custom home, his face lits up with a smile.

Hector says he and his family are incredibly grateful to HFOT’s donors and supporters who gave Gustavo this opportunity for happiness. “Thank you for giving my brother another reason to smile and the feeling he has not been and will never be forgotten,” Hector says. “On behalf of my family and Gustavo thank you for being a part of his unforgettable journey.”