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New Mexico’s own Robocop: House honors nearly paralyzed officer who now walks with robotic device

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Corrales police officer Jeremy Romero has found himself adjusting to several changes in recent months – first to a new set of legs, then to all the attention and, as of recently, a new nickname.

“They’ve been calling me ‘Robocop,’ ” Romero said in an interview Thursday. “I’ve kind of embraced it throughout all this.”

Romero, who was badly injured in an on-duty car crash early last year, recently received a $70,000 device that acts as a robotic exoskeleton.

It wraps around the officer’s lower body and communicates with a computer placed in his backpack. With the help of arm braces, the machine allows Romero to walk and stand of his own accord through a series of gears and motors that is connected to the computer and reacts to slight movements.

On Thursday, in the state House, Romero was able to use the device to walk up and receive recognition from federal and local elected officials for his bravery and service to the people of Corrales and the state.

“It was a great honor to be in front of the great people of New Mexico and to be honored the way I was,” 34-year-old Romero said. “That’s very, very influential in my recovery process.”

Corrales police officer Jeremy Romero hugs his son, Jeremy Jr., on Thursday at the House of Representatives. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Corrales police officer Jeremy Romero hugs his son, Jeremy Jr., on Thursday at the House of Representatives. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Romero is most accustomed to walking on carpet, so he was nervous about the House floor’s tile. But he made it through the ceremony without any slip-ups, he said, though he was unable to walk too far onto the floor.

In January 2014, Romero, who had been a Corrales police officer for two months, was working the morning shift and pursued a stolen vehicle at high speeds along the village’s main road. He lost control of his vehicle and it flipped into a telephone pole. The impact nearly paralyzed him from the waist down.

The suspects involved in the case faced charges including fleeing the scene of an accident, aggravated fleeing and criminal damage to property. One suspect was sentenced to prison until at least 2019, and another suspect’s trial is pending.

“At the end of all of this, I thought my law enforcement career was over,” Romero said, adding that the device has returned his mobility to him. “It’s going to get me back to almost to where I was before … I’m going to be able to enjoy my life with my son.”

Romero said that while he won’t be able to run with the device, he looks forward to playing catch with his 10-year-old son, cooking and attending football games. He also said the increased mobility has kept his dreams of staying in law enforcement alive.

Despite the accident, Romero has maintained his law enforcement certification, and he has his sights set on law enforcement leadership. He said he intends to run for sheriff in two years in his hometown of Santa Rosa, a fact that was acknowledged in the Legislature’s recognition of him Thursday.

“Officer Romero has now declared, with the use of his new legs and outlook, that he will continue to battle and persevere through physical therapy towards his goals,” the certificate reads. “Officer Romero, now being known as New Mexico and America’s first ‘Robocop’, now has the dream of running for sheriff in … his home county.”

At least six police agencies were in attendance.

State Rep. Paul Pacheco, a former officer, became emotional when he introduced Romero. Durng the ceremony Romero was also honored by House Speaker Don Tripp, and a memorial by New Mexico congressional Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham was read. That memorial will be read in Congress today.

The ReWalk Robotics device recently became the first such device approved for home use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which signed off after more than four years of trials. Romero is one of about two dozen people nationwide to receive the device for home use, said Andy McCord, one of the company’s business development managers.

Romero will be able to use the machine at home after a few more training sessions, McCord said, and the company is looking at upgrading the software to allow users to go up stairs.

Romero said the device makes him feel like he’s gotten his life back, but he hopes one day not to need it, either.

“I’m working toward not needing anything. I have a tremendous drive,” he said. “I’m going to find a way to get through it, get over it or crawl under it.”

Journal staff photographer Eddie Moore contributed to this report.