Nobody expected me to live. But I did.
Medical experts told me I would never breathe without a ventilator.But I do.
Doctors said I would never again be able to walk or use my arms. But I will.
Chief Warrant Officer Romulo “Romy” Camargo has been in the United States Army since April 6, 1995. Most of that time has been spent in the Special Operations community with the 75th Ranger Regiment and 7th Special Forces Group. He has deployed to Central and South America as well as a trip Nairobi Kenya. However, 9/11 changed a lot of things for a lot of people, including Romy. He was deployed to Afghanistan, which was certainly more than an experience. The missions were intense, the risk was high, yet every day was fulfilling to someone like Romy, a soldier at heart.
On September 16, 2008 (during his third deployment to Afghanistan), Romy’s mission had been cancelled. He opted to do a humanitarian mission which involved medical professionals going in, operating and taking care of women, men, and live stock in a village. As a humanitarian mission, it was considered low risk but as soldiers know, there is no such thing as low risk when you are in a war zone. That day Romy’s detachment was ambushed. As bullets rained down on the entire team, Romy took a gunshot wound to the back of his neck. His fellow soldiers saw him go down. He lay limp in the Bed of his GMV (Ground Mobility Vehicle). The soldiers managed to repel the attack, as the team Medic ran to Romy. They turned his limp body over and immediately did an emergency tracheotomy and began bagging him, all in the midst of cross fire. The soldiers remained calm and focused on one purpose…getting Romy out alive.
They stabilized him enough for the medevac which prepared him for the flight to Germany. This became merely a stopover as they shipped him immediately to Walter Reed Medical Center. Romy was conscious, but unaware of what had happened. He landed on September 19, 2008 in Washington, D.C. A day Romy and his family will never forget. Gaby never thought she would spend’ her birthday like this, waiting to greet her husband in the hospital. Unsure of what to expect, she merely prayed and asked for continued strength to be able to handle whatever God may have in store. Romy was paralyzed from the shoulders down. The doctor ended by saying that Romy would never walk again.
Romy knows that things may appear as adversity yet they are actually an opportunity. After having spent nearly two hours each day driving to and from a rehab facility, Romy and Gaby decided to create their own facility, a facility for the future. One that has rehab programs and equipment that allow quadriplegics and paraplegics the ability to stand and exercise. One that provides support for caregivers complete with a community of inspiration and motivation. Romy and Gaby have raised the initial Goal And opened Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center on June 20th 2015 in Tampa, FL, they provide service to veterans and civilians from around the United States. Men and women can come to this facility for not only the physical rehab but they can also get a taste of the mental game it takes to thrive on the journey down a road less traveled. One that is often bumpy, painful and fraught with despair if one is ill equipped.
It was one of those days that I’ll remember until the day I die: September 16, 2008. I got the knock on the door call that every military spouse dreads. The 7th Group Deputy Commander and Chaplain were at my door step “Mrs. Camargo, we need to talk to you there was an ambush. Your husband has been shot in the back of his neck. My heart froze in my chest.
“Romy . . . is he alive?”
“He’s badly hurt. We’re airlifting him to a hospital in Kandahar and depending on his condition we will transfer him to Germany or Walter reed medical center in Washington DC.”
I immediately dropped to my knees and began to pray. I felt weak and limp yet the more I prayed the stronger I felt. I wasn’t sure what would happen next, I just knew that God would only give me what I could handle. I began to call his family and let them know what had happened to Romulo. For the next hours everybody started to calling me, family, friends, but the only phone that I wanted to receive was from his commander to know more about his condition, if was he was stable or not and if they finally transferred him to Germany or Washington DC.
Romy entered Walter Reed on my birthday. I believe it was the ultimate gift God could have given me…my husband was alive. As I entered his room, I knew he was conscious because he got a smile on his face. The smile that lights up a room. The one that says, “I’ve got this covered and all is good.”
When the doctor came in, I realized what we were facing. He explained that had the bullet been one half inch to the other side, Romy would have died. I took a deep breath because I knew this journey was about more than just his injuries. I knew God wanted us to do more with it, which is why he spared Romy’s life.
As the doctor left the room, I knew this was the first day of our new journey together. I use the word “journey” because it has multiple meanings for Romy and me. Many people view an incident like this as adversity, yet we have always seen this as an opportunity. With our unwavering faith we both knew from the beginning that this was part of a bigger plan to make a bigger impact.
It was on one Sunday in the afternoon when I began to formulate the next step. I told Romulo: Let’s be realistic, how long do you think that we will be able to travel to Orlando twice a week?, We need to open a rehabilitation center here in Tampa; a center that you can go and guarantee your rehab and at the same time giving the same opportunity to the rest of the community living with spinal cord injury. I remember that I told him, I wondered how many people were like us, having to endure the travel and everything that goes with it, multiple times each week. We talked about those that may not be as fortunate to afford such rehab.
After days and weeks talking about the same thing, I finally convinced Romulo and we decided to build our own facility. Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center opened its doors on June 20th 2015, where we can Change Lives One Step At a Time!!!!