Jose Ruiz and his family will never forget the day their camping trip in Colusa County became a nightmare. It was Sept. 16. They finished breakfast and were packing up. The youngest, 5-year-old Cesar, begged unsuccessfully for someone to take him swimming once more.
Suddenly, Cesar stumbled backward onto a large pot of hot frying oil. Ruiz swept up his badly burned son and ran with him into the lake. A rescue helicopter met them a few miles away.
The accident caused third-degree burns on Cesar's leg and arm. He went through two surgeries and a lengthy stay in intensive care at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California.
Since then, his recovery has been heartening. He must wear a pressure garment covering his body 23 hours a day, which causes itching, but otherwise has resumed life as an energetic schoolboy.
For Cesar's parents and three sisters, the accident still haunts. It also stands in testament to the deep bonds of family.
Sisters Maria, 15, Ashley, 14, and Carla, 10, feel guilt that they didn't take Cesar swimming that morning, because doing so might have averted the accident.
The father wishes he had never taken his family camping.
Cesar's mother, Gabriela Ruiz, said she realizes she and her family need to reach out more to others, just as the communities at Shriners and the local Firefighters Burn Institute did for them.
Cesar, with his playful smile and sunny disposition, is more cherished than ever.
The accident came amid hard times.
For 13 years, Jose Ruiz had a solid job with a mobile home construction firm. In 2009, the company went under and he fell behind on his Woodland home's mortgage. He took handyman jobs and recently found work striping roads when it isn't raining, while his wife washes dishes at a local hospital.
While they have insurance through her hospital job to cover medical bills, they have had to cut Internet service and other household niceties, and the children know Christmas will be limited this year.
The nonprofit Sacramento-based Firefighters Burn Institute, which helped institute the burn unit at UC Davis Medical Center, provides support to burn victims and their families. The institute is asking Book of Dreams readers to provide the Ruiz family with new living room furniture and a pair of twin beds this holiday season.
Their two living room love seats are worn, uncomfortable and too small for all to sit together unless they bring extra straight chairs into the room.
Cesar shares an older double bed with his sister, Carla. Since the accident, he has slept with his parents, but they hope he will feel secure in his own bed one day soon.
NEEDED: New living room furniture and two twin beds for the Ruiz family.