A former Miami police officer is recovering from a chemical inhalation emergency that caused him to pass out inside a police station building last month, and then spend 11 weeks in the hospital.
Rick Camacho was running in full gear outside the Southwest Miami-Dade Police Station as part of a training exercise for his job when he fell and a small amount of a gas was ignited. The white-fluoroacetone, which typically comes in industrial air cleaners, caused him to pass out.
“I remember awakening in intensive care,” he told HuffPost. “It was so surreal.”
Camacho, who retired in 2017, was at the police station near mile-high Miramar Airport just before 9 p.m. on Nov. 19. He was working as a helicopter strike support pilot, transporting people and animals out of harm’s way for the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I was landing these helicopters and off I went,” he said. “I had full gear on.”
While outside, however, Camacho tripped on the grass and fell to the ground. He was taken to Southwest Miami-Dade Fire Station 1 on Southwest 137th Avenue where he was treated on the scene, medics said.
“He collapsed and passed out from exposure to one of the fumes,” firefighter Michael Rivas, who was at the scene, told HuffPost. “This chemical was emitting off this staircase in the station.”
While first responders spent several minutes trying to transport him to the hospital, he passed out while getting on a car.
“I remember the paramedics guys helping the guy out of the vehicle as I was getting into the ambulance,” he said. “He wasn’t coherent at all at the time.”
We just had a new member of the security team…@MiamiWPTV is live live with former MPD officer and #P3EP instructor Rick Camacho, who was released from the ICU to recover at home after a bizarre incident where he became “comatose” after spending 11 weeks in the hospital with exposure to a white-fluoroacetone. pic.twitter.com/oByGAty7PI — WPEC CBS12 News (@CBS12) December 12, 2018
He was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami, where he spent the next 11 weeks in the ICU.
“I don’t know what I was in shock of,” he said. “I literally had no memory of what had happened.”
Packed with hospital equipment, he said his parents made a medical packing list with all of the things they didn’t want to worry about.
“They were very worried about my wife, who’s also a cop,” he said. “I called her and said, ‘I just know you need to stay with me.’”
Camacho credits the support of his family, friends and even strangers who donated money to help his family stay with him and ensured he had doctors and nurses around him 24 hours a day.
His family were worried about his medical bills. Within the first few weeks, he already incurred more than $200,000 in medical expenses.
“That was something I could never afford without coverage,” he said. “In my 30 years of law enforcement, this was my worst experience.”
After nine months of treatment, Camacho’s outlook is looking up.
“Everything seems to be trending upwards,” he said. “My mindset has changed so much.”
He has been assigned to lay carpet, deal with painting and build a new bedroom for his family and is eager to be a force for good in the community again.
“I’m going to be working helping people again,” he said. “Help people who are struggling with bills.”