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New York City heart recipient follows donor's heart's desire to Victoria restaurant

By JR Ortega
Feb. 25, 2010 at 7 p.m.
Updated Feb. 25, 2010 at 8:26 p.m.

Kevin Nurse, who received a heart transplant from a former Victoria resident decided to move to Victoria recently. A former UPS driver in New York City, Nurse has followed his heart into the culinary arts, specializing in seafood.Frank Tilley Advocate Photo Editor

Kevin Nurse is a Victoria transplant - to say the least.

It was just four years ago that the 250-pound former New Yorker received a heart transplant from a Victoria chef.

That transplant led the once 17-year UPS driver to become a chef.

Then in August, the 38-year-old's heart took another change of pace - a move to Victoria.

"I got pretty much, I'd say, a family here," said Nurse, as he took a break from the 100-degree kitchen at the Mustang Bar and Grill.

Nurse received his heart from Daniel Zarate Jr., a former Victoria resident who died in a car accident in Virginia, where he had moved to expand his cooking career.

Before Nurse's transplant, cooking was a hobby.

After the transplant, that hobby began to burn stronger.

It wasn't until he met Zarate's family for the first time in 2008, that he learned his donor was passionate about cooking.

"What he wanted to do, part of him is still here and still doing what he loved to do," he said. "That's one thing I know for sure."


A grease flame explodes toward Nurse's face as he prepares a signature Mustang burger at the bar and grill.

Nurse is the executive chef, but his real goal is still on the back burner: He aspires to open his own, non-corporate, fine-dining restaurant, he said.

"I got to finish up this work that this man sought," he said. "That's the main purpose of me being down here."

In five months, Nurse has noticed Victoria, as a community, needs something different.

His specialty is seafood.

"The number one thing to do in this town is to dine out," he said. "I want to cook for people who want to eat. And people here want to eat."

The job, which he found through a friend of the Zarate family, is a great starting point, he said.

"We're not a five star restaurant, but I am surely running the place like that," he said.

Nurse was not sure what to expect after he packed his bags and drove the 1,800-mile trip from the Eastern Seaboard to South Texas.

"Something came over me," he said.

Nurse realized soon after the move that it was not only about following his heart's desire, but following the heart of others connected to the donation.

"I want his family to know that, even throughout their grief they were selfless and donated his organs, there was a purpose and there was a reason that God saved my life," he said. "I want them to know that and just for them to be proud."


Cecilia and Daniel Zarate Sr. still miss their son but know his passion is still alive and being put to good use.

"It's kind of difficult for me, right now," said Cecilia, who still has a soft spot about the loss of her son.

The healing process doesn't end, but there is coping, Nurse said.

"This is still fresh for me and for them," he said as he grilled a steak.

Before moving, he visited the family several times.

Daniel's father, Daniel Sr., has an easier time talking with Nurse, he said.

Daniel Sr., prefers to stay away from how he feels because one day life feels great and the next, it's like his son died all over again, he said.

"We love Kevin," he said. "Our feelings are juggling all the time. It's more about Kevin and Daniel. They're connected."

Since the move, they have met several times, Daniel Sr., said.

The Zarates enjoy his New York style cooking.

Nurse is sure the sudden move will serve as a two-way street when it comes to healing process, he said.

"It helps me heal also because I know so much more about this young man, rather than how he lost his life," he said.

Nurse is beginning to realize the beauty of small-city life, he said.

"I fell in love with Victoria," he said. "You really don't think places like this still exist."

The wide open spaces and change of scenery is just what he needs to expand his cooking horizons, something Daniel was unable to accomplish because he died too soon.

"My donor was a needle in a haystack," he said. "I wake up sometimes laughing because it's like, I can't believe I'm still here."


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