TAMPA, Fla. — As we continue our Hispanic Heritage Month Coverage, we highlighted a local man who has dedicated his life to serving our country and the Tampa Bay area.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill brings us the story of Romulo Camargo and how he turned a devastating situation that happened to him into a positive for the community.
Camargo joined the military in 1995 when he was just 19 years old. He spent the beginning of his career in the Army Special Forces traveling extensively throughout Latin America until 9/11.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he served two tours in Afghanistan, not knowing that his third tour there would change his life. On Sept. 16, 2008, his team was caught in an ambush.
“I suffered a gunshot wound to the back of my neck, paralyzing me instantly,” said Camargo.
He said a medic came and performed an emergency tracheostomy by cutting a small incision in his throat in order for him to breathe. All of this happened on the battlefield.
“Once I got to the first location, which was Kalāt City, they put me on a small ventilator. Then I went on to Kandahar and then Bagram and then off to Germany, Germany to Walter Reed," he said.
The whole trip took three days. He would then go on to spend about 19 months recovering.
“I remember the days when he was traveling twice a week to Orlando and it was just brutal,” said Carlos Perez, Camargo’s friend.
However, it’s what Camargo decided to do with this adversity that truly sets him apart.
“What Gabby, my wife, said, ‘We need to open up our own center. Our own physical therapy center where you can go with a couple of your buddies from the Tampa VA and other veterans and come and do long-term rehabilitation,'” said Camargo.
On June 20, 2015, the doors of their spinal recovery center “Stay In Step” opened to the public. It’s the only long-term rehabilitation center in the Tampa Bay area and they currently serve 50 clients.
Marty O’Connor is one of those clients. Without Stay In Step, he would’ve had to travel about two hours to and from Orlando. He says he's been coming here for about six years.
O'Conner's spinal cord injury resulted from falling down a flight of stairs and hitting his head. He said it's people like Camargo who inspire him to keep pushing forward.
“Just to have him around here. Just his energy. The whole effect he has on the gym just brings adds to the atmosphere that’s already so great here,” said O’Conner.
Due to Camargo’s contribution to our community and nation, he’s being honored with the Hispanic Man of the Year award in the Tampa Bay area.
“One of my friends put in a nomination for me,” said Camargo.
“I saw the awards that they nominate folks every year and I started reading and immediately, it was a no-brainer for me. Within seconds, I was like, ‘ugh, this is a perfect award for Romy Camargo,'” said Perez.
Maribel Garrett from Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. explains why Camargo was chosen, “As we get to know him even more, just seeing how he’s set up these challenges and just overcome them and said, ‘OK, what can I do to help others that may be in a similar situation as mine.’”
As for Camargo, a proud American with Venezuelan and Colombian roots, he’s proof that having a disability doesn’t have to stop you from having an impact on your community.
“I’m proud to be recognized as a Hispanic man of the year,” said Camargo.
Camargo will be formally honored at the Tampa Hispanic Person of the Year Gala on Oct. 16.
Here’s a link with more info if you’d like to attend, click here.