When the First Responder Becomes the Trauma Victim

Since he was a young boy, Officer Nestor “Nacho” Garcia, 25, dreamed of becoming a police officer. It was something he always saw for his future. He made his dream a reality when he turned 21 and applied to join the Houston Police Academy and officially became a police officer in 2016. “It was the best decision I could have ever made and I enjoy being a police officer,” said Nestor.

But his childhood dream nearly came to a screeching halt when he was standing outside of his vehicle during a routine traffic stop and was struck by a second vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. He doesn’t remember what happened next and has since had to rely on family and doctors to retell the story. Nestor was transported to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “When my family came to visit me in the hospital, they weren’t sure if I was going to make it,” said Nestor.

Undergoing Lifesaving Trauma Surgery

Doctors at the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann -Texas Medical Center rushed Nestor into surgery where they repaired multiple injuries sustained in the accident. For 12 hours, Nestor was under the careful watch of surgeon Dr. John Harvin, a McGovern Medical School at UTHealth general surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Nestor’s abdominal injuries were severe and took a very long and complex operation to address.  That long operation didn’t even begin to address his other injuries, which were extensive,” said Dr. Harvin. “While still recovering, Nestor’s progress has been quite simply amazing.”

He spent a month and a half in the hospital and was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann for inpatient rehabilitation. “I was unable to walk due to the pelvic fractures and I was unable to bend my right knee,” said Nestor. “I also couldn’t move my right arm.”

Beginning the Long Journey Back to Health

Physical and occupational therapists at TIRR Memorial Hermann worked with Nestor to get movement back in his right knee. Weight-bearing exercises for his lower body such as strengthening exercises and gait training helped Nestor regain strength. In addition, he went through speech therapy and swallowing exercises to help retrain his body. His motor skills were improved through the use of stretching exercises and fun activities such as board and card games.  Nestor continued to progress in his rehabilitation and fought hard to get back to his dream of being a police officer.

“Being a patient was not only a physical challenge but also mental because I had to rely on others to do things for me that used to be simple,” said Nestor. “However, no matter what the situation, everyone at TIRR kept a positive attitude and we worked together to achieve my goals.”

Walking On His Own Again

Three weeks after being wheeled into TIRR Memorial  Hermann, Nestor walked for the first time on his own. “When Nestor came to TIRR Memorial Hermann we developed a treatment plan customized to his injuries and put great focus on how to regain his strength and independence,” said Dr. Manuel Mas, a UTHealth attending physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann. “Nestor’s determination and resiliency pushed him forward throughout his rehabilitation.”

Nestor was discharged from TIRR Memorial  Hermann right before the holidays. “Although I wasn’t fully back to myself, I was happy to be going home and be around family,” said Nestor. “Their support was monumental in my recovery because they still supported my dream of being a police officer despite what I was experiencing. My dad continuously told me how proud he was of me.”

Regaining Independence Through the Challenge Program

At the beginning of the year, Nestor began participating in the Challenge Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann. The Challenge Program, is an outpatient program that provides a comprehensive range of services to help brain injury survivors regain mobility skills such as walking independently; assists with communication and problem-solving skills needed for long-term success; and provides specialized services focused on community reintegration skills critical for the transition to independent living, school, work or volunteer activities following brain injury.

When Nestor arrived on his first day, he had a walker, a knee brace, a neck brace and an eye patch. Nestor worked hard with therapists to regain leg and arm strength through physical activity such as light jogging and light strength training exercises. Within his first week he no longer needed a walker and the braces. “I previously doubted the necessity of physical therapy, but after my experience at TIRR and seeing firsthand how important it is in someone’s recovery, I really see the importance of it,” said Nestor. “I’m very appreciative of all of the therapists. They truly care about every patient they work with and it makes you work 10 times harder to have someone believe in you.”

Back at Work at the Career He Loves

As his time with the Challenge Program came closer to the end, Nestor continued to fight hard for his dream and worked with program facilitators to return to active duty as  a police officer. “Although Nestor was still in a wheelchair when we first met, it was obvious that nothing could stand between him and his recovery process,” said Zahra Kadivar, Challenge Program Manager. “On our first visit with him, the team unanimously recognized that he was determined and motivated.”

During his outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation -Kirby Glen, Nestor and his Physical Therapist Lauren Almanza engaged in activities such as boxing, ping pong, golfing, computer use and community reintegration activities. “The thing that hat always impressed me about him was that he had been through this horrific accident but he showed up for therapy every single day with a huge smile, ready to do whatever it took to get back to the career he loved,” said Lauren. “He improved so rapidly and I attribute a big part of that to his incredible attitude and true appreciation for life.

Nearly six months since his life-changing accident, Nestor returned to work. Although his responsibilities have changed, he’s just as proud to be a police officer today as he was on his first day in 2016.

To learn more about rehabilitation programs, visit TIRR Memorial Hermann.

Today, May 16, is National Trauma Survivors Day, a celebration that seeks to draw inspiration from and provide support to survivors of traumatic injuries and their caregivers, opening the road to their recovery from trauma. We encourage you to share your support for trauma survivors by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page using the hashtags #TraumaSurvivorsDay and #NTSD.

Together, we can create an unprecedented voice of compassion and solidarity from the trauma community on behalf of our patients and their families.

Comments

  1. I have learned so much about the wonders of TIRR Memorial Hermann since Nick Tullier, a Louisiana Deputy who was shot in the line of duty, has been there. Miracles at work.

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