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Pablo Ráez's brave fight comes to an end but his legacy lives on

Pablo Ráez photgraphed last December after leaving hospital in Malaga.
Pablo Ráez photgraphed last December after leaving hospital in Malaga. / SUR
  • After two bone-marrow transplants, the 20-year-old succumbed to his illness but his struggle was remembered publicly at numerous Andalucía Day events

Pablo Ráez, the 20-year-old from Marbella whose two-year battle against leukemia was followed by thousands on social media, died on Saturday at his home surrounded by his family.

He was diagnosed in 2015 and his later campaign for bone marrow donors to give hope to people in his situation went viral on social media. As a result the number of bone marrow donors in the province of Malaga increased by 1,300% last year.

Ráez underwent his second bone marrow transplant in November last year when a suitable donor was found in the United States, after receiving the first donation from his father. His condition had deteriorated however in recent weeks.

During his illness his messages to his followers contained his motto, "Siempre fuerte" (forever strong).

Aware that his second transplant had not achieved the desired result, he said: "Death forms part of life, so you don't have to fear it, but love it."

Many tributes came in after the announcement of his death, most notably from national politicians Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sánchez, actor Antonio Banderas and the football team he supported, Malaga CF.

Packed church at funeral

More than a thousand people attended his funeral at the Encarnación church in Marbella the following day, including the mayor of Marbella, José Bernal, and the mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre. Some of those who attended were forced to stand outside the parish church during the ceremony due to the huge number of people who had come to pay their respects to the boy who wanted to become a fireman, just like his father.

The service was led by the parish priest, José López Solórzano, who, visibly emotional, admitted all he wanted "was to cry with everyone else". Solórzano, who was also Pablo's godfather, paid tribute to the family of a young man "who did what he was able to do and has left his mark in the world".

Following the service, Ráez was cremated at a private ceremony held at the Virgen del Carmen cemetery.

Call for memorials to Pablo

Thousands of people have taken to social media and the internet to ask for Pablo's memory and his fight against his cancer to live on. On Monday alone, 22 different petitions were started on website change.org related to Pablo. These ranged from naming a street after him in Marbella and changing the name of the Costa del Sol Hospital, to founding a research centre and nominating him posthumously for the annual Princess of Asturias awards.

Many supporters of the initiatives praised the young man's good-natured efforts to raise awareness of his illness and cancer suffering in general. Pablo García from Marbella wrote on the petition that he created to have the local hospital named after Pablo that he "demonstrated day after day the example of life, overcoming obstacles and fighting that is worthy of being remembered publicly."

Medal ceremony goes ahead

One cruel irony of Pablo's death was that it came a few days before he was due to be awarded the Marbella City Medal at a ceremony on Andalucía Day on Tuesday at the Teatro Municipal. Announcing two days mourning after his death, Marbella council also said it would cancel the ceremony. However on the insistence of Pablo's family that the youngster would have wished the event to take place, it was reinstated.

Speaking to the audience at the event, which pays tribute to key citizens each year, Pablo's sister Esther said, "My brother has left a legacy, and the donation of bone marrow is important. He never did it selfishly, he did it for everyone...He thought that the world could be better and he always focussed on people." Heartbreakingly Pablo stood on the same stage at last year's ceremony to receive a medal as part of a group of firefighters from the town who had travelled to Greece to help Syrian refugees.

Throughout Andalucía Pablo Ráez was remembered at events and ceremonies marking the annual Andalucía Day regional public holiday. In Seville, the regional capital, the Junta de Andalucía's annual awards ceremony projected a huge photo of Pablo with his trademark "forever strong" gesture. By coincidence, the Andalusian transplant coordination group received an award for 25 years supporting the local community. Its director, Manuel Alonso, dedicated the award on stage to all people who have donated and received donations and in particular to Pablo Ráez. A minutes silence was also held at Malaga CF's game against Betis.

Meanwhile, many people continue to remember Pablo privately by registering as bone marrow donors, transplant agencies have reported.