Once-paralyzed officer takes first steps

Posted at: 07/30/2014 10:20 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

He chased after a stolen car.  He crashed.  He nearly died.  Now, a Corrales police officer who's been confined to a wheelchair for months is taking his first steps.

Since the wreck in January, Officer Jeremy Romero has been recovering from spinal injuries.

"My 8-mile runs I used to do ain't got nothing on this, man," he said breathlessly as he wrapped up the first portion of a physical therapy session.  "Both mentally and physically, this is just so draining."

Romero invited KOB Eyewitness News 4 to document his recovery.

He said he refuses to let his injuries redefine him.  He's set specific goals for himself.

"Just to succeed and prevail every day. And just do better than I did the day before," he said.

The muscles in Romero's legs deteriorated.  His nerves still don't communicate with his brain.  For now, physical therapists have to buckle him into a specialized walking machine that supports his weight.

He visits his therapist at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Albuquerque five days a week.  He said he receives acupuncture treatment twice a week as well.

"This team that I have is amazing, man.  It's just amazing," Romero said.

Romero, who's married and has a young son, said he's slowly able to perform basic life functions on his own once again.

"Everything's just time-consuming.  Like, I took a shower this morning and it took me 45 minutes from start to finish -- for that whole process -- from the shower, to me getting fully dressed, and out the door," he said.

He remembers how the crash nearly killed him.  He acknowledges that doctors initially gave him a five-percent chance of walking ever again.  He also admits he's come to accept criticism from people who still believe he ought to have died for conducting the police chase the way he did.

"It's just making me ... strong," Romero said.  "And I'd give my life any day of the week for any citizen out on the street."

Investigators never said he violated police chase policies.

As Romero laboriously gets through physical therapy, he said he maintains a warrior mentality.

He hopes to walk entirely on his own one year from now.

Romero's doctors said he has a great outlook on working in law enforcement once again.

"He does because he's a go-getter," Dr. Eva Pacheco said.

She said physical therapy patients must establish numerous small goals in order to succeed.

"In rehab, we look for baby steps," Pacheco said.

Romero said he expects to receive leg braces in the next two weeks.