One Step Forward

Romulo “Romy” Camargo served three tours in Afganistan before being injured and left a quadriplegic. (Photo courtesy of Stay in Step).
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News November 2015

One U.S. Army veteran says he's done more in four years than during his entire military career

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Active and driven have always been good descriptors for Romulo “Romy” Camargo. Ever since he joined the Army in 1995, he’s pushed himself to be better and work his way up the ladder. But in the last four years, Camargo says he’s done more than ever before.
“Coming up from E1 to E7 (pay grade) and then becoming a warrant officer, it was just in me to never quit. You know even when I was a young ranger in 1st Ranger Battalion, you know surrender was never a … word so I just kept doing what I needed to do and I wanted to recover,” Camargo says. “And you know, it’s one of those things that was instilled in me. But I tell you what, I’ve done more in the last four years than I did the 16 other years that I was in the Army.”
On Sept. 16, 2008, Camargo was directing fire during an ambush in an Afghanistan village when a bullet hit him in the back of the neck, shattering his C3 vertebrae, rendering him a quadriplegic.
When Camargo returned stateside to start his rehab, that drive immediately took over. On his website ( he states, “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.”
His determination to recover and remain an active duty member of the Army led him to petition the Surgeon General of the Army to allow him to go to Portugal to take part in a research surgery. He received permission and became the first active duty service member to receive Olfactory Mucosa Autografts.
His actions eventually led the way to a Department of Defense policy change that allows active duty service members to fill out an application to go abroad for research surgeries. He also played a role toward a policy change that allows active duty service members to apply to necessary diaphragmatic stimulators, like the one he needed after his injury.

Creating Community

Following the Olfactory Mucosa Autograft surgery in Portugal, Camargo was to return to the U.S. for an intensive, activity-based exercise rehabilitation regimen five days per week.
For the next six months, Camargo and his wife, Gaby, drove two hours, five days a week to the private center where he rehabbed, when finally Gaby piped in to tell her husband that they could do this at home in Tampa, Fla. She wanted to start their own rehabilitation center.
“I told her she was crazy and then I said, ‘You know what? We’ll get people involved,’” Camargo says. “ … So that was my wife’s mission, to bring a center to Tampa where we could help the military community and the civilian SCI (spinal-cord injury) guys here in the Tampa Bay area.”
So they reached out to the community they received so much support from after his injury to build the team that would start Stay In Step, a SCI recovery center.
That team includes: Scott Mann, a friend deployed with Camargo in Afghanistan, serving as chairman of the board; Steven Hill, the special forces medic who saved Camargo’s life the day of his injury, as lead trainer; and John Merritt, MD, who was the Chief of the SCI Center at Haley Hospital in Tampa and was Camargo’s doctor, as chief medical advisor.
All those people, along with Camargo’s family, served as his support system during his recovery. When he was at the Department of Veterans of Affairs hospital, Camargo noticed not everyone else had that support or community he had and he started spending time with those people to advocate for them.
When Camargo and his wife started planning their new center, they immediately knew they wanted this sense of community and family engagement at the forefront. So, they decided to include a family room in the center.
“We’re integrating the family aspect into our center,” Camargo says. “You know, spinal-cord injury isn’t a personal injury, it’s a family issue. So we’re going to invite some family therapy, some family group support and you know Gaby and I, we have a family room in the center where we can sit down with the caregivers, the wives, the mothers of the spinal-cord injury client, and you know we’re going to be able to provide that service.”

Stepping Out

Including the family in the recovery process to provide a community who can guide and talk each other through the issues everyone has with SCI is just one way Stay In Step stands out. The other main element the center provides is the intensive activity-based exercise that Camargo has used since his surgery.
Those exercises include free-standing and other exercises any able-bodied person would do, but in this case the clients with SCI are being helped by an onsite, certified activity-based trainer and assistive technology and equipment.
“Gaby and I, we’ve been about my recovery, but we also wanted to bring a center to Tampa and be able to provide those services that I’ve been able to enjoy and find recovery,” Camargo says. “So we just wanted to bring it to Tampa so other people in the civilian community and the military community could also enjoy and have a chance at recovery.”
In January, Stay In Step held a 30-day crowdfunding event on social media to raise the $750,000 needed to open the center. When Toyota Motor North America Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Simon Nagata got word about the center, the company donated the remaining $350,000 needed to reach their goal and brought the Camargos’ vision to life with a grand opening of the center June 20.
“It’s not about making money, it’s about having a place where people can come and workout and receive recovery,” Camargo says. “Like I told someone the other day, I can’t promise them recovery, but I can promise them better quality of life.”

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One Step Forward

I was fortunate enough to look at this facility after my wife got hurt with a spinal cord injury. To hear the back story of the veteran and how he got hurt was absolutely touching. His intentions are pure and so is his staff. It seems like a good facility for just getting off the ground. After being in the medical field for 18 years and traveling the country, I decided to put my wife at a different facility across the state in Palm Beach County called Center for Neuro Recovery. This facility has been open for a multitude of years and has amazing equipment and experience training many different neurological injuries. It is different centers like these that make all the difference in the world for the people that have sustained life-threatening injuries and disorders. I was also fortunate enough to see other veterans working out daily alongside my wife making their true recovery process possible. willstacks
Star (1 posts)
April 05, 2017
03:28 PM

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