Thursday, November 10, 2016 8:07 PM

From the roads of Iraq to the halls of the neuro unit

Registered nurse Jose Collazo seems like an ordinary American, starting his day with coffee before he drops his kids off at school and heads into work at the hospital in downtown Fresno. You wouldn’t be able to tell by first glance that Collazo survived a bomb explosion in Iraq that damaged his brain and nearly took away his ability to walk.

Collazo describes his days in Iraq as a dark and scary time for him. Imagine travelling on a single-lane road, with just farm fields and open space for miles on both sides. The smell of burning bodies and fumes from trucks and flaming rubber filled the air. There were no stop lights or other modern signs of civilization; local civilians would move out of the way as vehicles drove by. Collazo and his unit spent 12- to 18-hour days driving the roads in a Husky, an armored tractor type vehicle, searching out bombs and disabling them so that other army units could get to the cities where Al Qaeda had infiltrated. They would drive 5 mph, creeping along looking for signs of explosives in the side of the road, a slow-moving target in a wide-open plain.
“I was scared for my life,” said Collazo, “being 18 years-old and knowing that every day someone is trying to kill you.”
The more time Collazo spent in Iraq, the more his fear turned to vigilance and anger as he began losing friends he had fought beside.
Then Collazo became the next casualty as he found a bomb “the hard way.” His vehicle hit an explosive and flew 150 feet into the air. He woke up 10 days later in Texas suffering from severe bleeding in his brain and was told he would never walk again.
“I was filled with frustration. Anger. Doubt. Uncertainty of where my life was going to go,” said Collazo.
He would wake up every morning to have his mother help him get dressed, feed him and bathe him.
“There was a time I wanted to put a gun to my head,” said Collazo. “I thought maybe life would be easier for others if I wasn’t around.”
After years of physical and occupational therapy and the support of family and friends, Collazo learned to walk again. He now works as a neuroscience nurse at Community Regional Medical Center serving not just by providing healthcare, but also as an advocate for patients with brain injuries.
“The transition was not easy, but I’m blessed to have a second chance at life to take care of people.”
When asked, what Veteran’s Day means to him, Collazo responded: “Veteran’s day is a day for me to pay my respect for my brothers that helped protect this country. People I know and don’t know. Those who lost their lives and those who are serving now. We don’t know where our country is headed, but we can still honor those who fight to protect our freedom.”
And on this Veteran’s Day we honor our Community employees like Collazo who have served in our military and who bring those often difficult experiences with them to enhance the job they do here helping care for Valley families. Thank you!

Check out our photo gallery of employee veterans on Facebook
By Lindsay Haworth, Corporate Communications intern