If you ask Houston Police Officer Nestor Garcia about the events of Sept. 27, 2017, he can only give second-hand accounts told by his colleagues, family and doctors. Garcia has no memory of the line-of-duty accident that nearly claimed his life.
Garcia was conducting a felony traffic stop on a stolen vehicle on the Southwest Freeway near the Shepherd Drive exit when he was struck by an intoxicated driver traveling at more than 60 miles per hour. The 24-year-old rookie had been an HPD officer for only about a year when the tragic accident could have cut short his career and his life.
“The last thing I remember was telling my dad that I was going to work. I don’t have any solid recognition until early November,” Garcia said.
What followed was an inspirational, heroic journey to recovery that beat all the odds. Garcia sustained numerous life-threatening injuries to his brain, spine, kidneys, liver, spleen, knees and more. For months, Garcia had double vision from damage to his eye socket and optic nerve. A stroke left one side of his body paralyzed and impaired his speech.
Garcia’s doctors didn’t expect him to survive past 72 hours. They didn’t expect he would ever be able to walk, talk, or even regain normal vision, much less return to work. Despite the severity of his injuries, Garcia continued to defy diagnoses and exceed expectations until he returned to transitional duty in April of 2018 and full duty at the South Central Patrol Station in January of this year. During his recovery, HPD Chief Art Acevedo described Garcia as a, “walking miracle.”
“I was determined to come back to work. I just decided that I wouldn’t let the accident be what ended my career,” Garcia said. “Being a police officer was what I always wanted to do, and I was just getting started in my career. I loved it. There were a lot of things I wanted to do with my career that could have been cut short, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Through 16 months of hospitalizations, numerous surgeries and a painful rehabilitation process, Garcia said his family, friends and colleagues helped him find hope and motivation to persevere.
“That’s what pushed me through my recovery. My family never left my side. I was never alone in the hospital – not one single day,” Garcia said. “My friends came in on their lunch break, we’re talking dozens of officers, some whom I only knew in passing. Everyone came to show that they really cared. I never expected it.
“You hear about that bond between law enforcement officers, and I never fully understood that until now,” he said. “I had an incredible support system. Nobody gave me a chance to feel sorry for myself. My fellow officers even held a benefit event in my honor.”
Garcia said he was also grateful for assistance from the workers’ compensation staff in the Human Resources Risk Management division. Betsy Ramos, division manager, and Joy Purcell, administrative coordinator, ensured that Garcia received all the medical care he needed to recover.
“I’ve occasionally heard other officers complain about workers’ compensation, but my parents said Betsy and Joy were immensely helpful and supportive,” Garcia said. “My dad said they walked in the hospital on the first day and said, ‘You worry about your son, we’ll worry about everything else.’ And that’s exactly how it worked. My parents didn’t have to worry about any of the medical stuff.”
After he regained consciousness, Garcia said Ramos and Purcell continued to monitor his medical needs for the duration of his recovery.
“Betsy and Joy were phenomenal. When it came to approvals for procedures, they didn’t take no for an answer. I have no complaints. I never had to reach out to them because they constantly checked on me. It took a lot of stress off myself and my parents.”
Ramos said success stories like Garcia’s bring greater meaning to her job.
“The Human Resources workers’ compensation team was honored to support Officer Garcia and his family through his miraculous recovery,” Ramos said. “They are an inspiration to us all.”
Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks also expressed her admiration for Garcia’s strength and determination. Cheeks noted that Garcia is living proof that collaboration can lead to successful outcomes.
“This is a shining example of how the workers’ compensation process – from beginning to end – can work in the best interest of the injured employee, especially when the employee is invested in the process.”
Garcia’s perseverance earned the respect of his fellow officers including the Hispanic Officer of the Year Committee, which presented Garcia with the 2018 Uniform Officer of the Year Award. The event program commended Garcia for, “his bravery and internal resolve to return to the department and resume his career as a Houston Police officer. Officer Garcia’s intestinal fortitude, desire and ambition exemplifies the strengths of a Latino Law Enforcement Officer.”
Garcia said he was honored by the award, but he was quick to deflect praise.
“I don’t see what I went through as a heroic act or something I need to be commended for. It was the luck of the draw,” he said. “I got hit, and I did what I had to do to survive. Other people tell me that I’m one the strongest people they’ve ever met. I don’t see it that way, but if anyone can get some inspiration or motivation out of what I went through, I want to help anyone I can.”