Badge of Honor: Officer Norbert Ramon rescues hundreds from Hurricane Harvey despite his Stage 4 cancer
02/20/2018 3:06 pm PST
UPDATE June 15, 2018:
Officer Norbert Ramon, who reportedly helped save thousands of lives during Hurricane Harvey, has passed away, reports WFAA. Ramon's battle with cancer ended Friday, Houston Police confirmed.
Crime Watch Daily travels the country telling stories of terrible tragedies and heartbreaking mysteries -- we also examine the other side of crime, honoring the heroes on the front lines, making a difference.
Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophic event of epic proportions that pummeled Houston in the summer of 2017. It was a natural disaster that inspired supernatural acts of heroism.
"There were tons and tons of people helping everybody. It was good to see everybody come together," said Houston Police Officer James Fowler.
But there is one hero who was not just battling the deadly hurricane -- he was also battling his own deadly terminal illness.
"He could have retired right after he had his diagnosis, but he's chosen to keep working and keep doing what he loves, which is being a police officer," said Houston Police Sgt. Epi Garza.
Norbert Ramon, a 24-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, has a passion for his job. And as a patrolman, he saw plenty of action.
One day in particular will forever be seared in the mind of Officer Ramon: the day he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.
Officer Ramon got the devastating diagnosis after a routine colonoscopy.
"I had no symptoms, I was in the best shape of my life, running, jogging, just doing everything. I lost all this weight," Officer Ramon tells Crime Watch Daily.
In a one-two punch, the doctors delivered the news nobody wants to hear: A death sentence. Officer Ramon had only two to five years to live.
"It hits you like a ton of bricks," said Officer Ramon.
The dad and grandfather of three was pulled from patrol and placed on desk duty while he underwent chemotherapy every two weeks.
"They immediately started me on chemo after that, so I was getting a lot of pains in my stomach, I almost keeled over," said Norbert Ramon.
But when Hurricane Harvey hit, so did the brave call of duty.
"I don't sit here and dwell on my cancer," said Officer Ramon. "The only time it hits me is when I go to the doctor, and reality hits me again."
With the floodwaters rising, Officer Norbert Ramon forgot his own troubles and plunged into action. He couldn't make it to headquarters, so he reported to a nearby station: Houston Police Department's Lake Patrol.
"When I showed up to work Saturday morning, he was already here. He actually beat me here," said Sgt. Epi Garza.
Sgt. Garza has worked alongside Officer Ramon for 15 years. He was thrilled to see his longtime buddy turn up to lend a hand.
"I knew this was going to be serious and I could use all the help I could need, especially with officers who got experience like himself in boating," said Sgt. Garza.
But Sgt. Garza knew he had to keep his good friend from getting in over his head, since he was the only other person who knew about Officer Ramon's cancer battle.
"I briefed everybody. And I briefed him to the side, and we talked and I'm like 'Hey, just let me know how you feel, if you need to take a break or if you need a rest, or, you know' -- in other words, I want to give him special treatment, but he's not that type," said Garza. "He doesn't want it. If everybody else is out there working, guess what? He's going to be out there working too."
Even working around the clock for days, none of the other cops had any clue Norbert Ramon was facing a terminal condition.
"Somebody had to tell me he had cancer. I didn't even know," said Officer Fowler. "He made the rest of us feel like we needed to step up our game a little bit."
Ramon and the patrol team braved the rising floodwaters, working tirelessly to rescue trapped and desperate people on boats packed beyond capacity.
You saved children from second-story apartments?
"We had to stand on the top and had to reach. You know, reach as far as I can, and then they hand them to me," Officer Ramon tells Crime Watch Daily. "The babies, and I set them down and then some adults were trying to climb over, I'm like 'Oh my God.'"
But Officer Ramon is quick to point out he was only a small part of the rescue effort. Many officers risked it all to save the stranded. In fact, some of his brothers in blue actually had to be snatched from the raging waters themselves.
But it wasn't just rising floodwaters that posed a danger to Officer Ramon. The toxins in the water posed an added danger in his weakened condition.
What do you think your doctors would have said if they'd known what you were doing?
"At first they're like 'He's crazy. What's he doing out there?'" said Officer Ramon.
It's muddy, there is debris, there are chemicals, there are toxins in that water.
"Yes. There is chemicals, there is ants and bugs and just everything," said Ramon.
You didn't think about that?
"No," said Officer Ramon.
Even with all the devastation, Ramon says there were bright spots thanks to his fellow comrades.
They say you were the "Energizer Bunny." You were just nonstop, you were going and you were full of energy and vitality.
"When you work with these guys and they joke around like that, you know, they keep you going," said Officer Ramon. "These guys are around here are clowns, I mean, they keep you laughing, there's never a dull moment."
And of course a superfood that's been one of Officer Ramon's secret weapons for all these years.
How did you get your strength with Stage 4 cancer? Where did your strength come from?
"I guess all the donuts they brought us here," said Officer Ramon. "That's all the local community. So funny, I've never seen so many donuts before in my life."
All joking aside, eventually the team got wind of Ramon's grave condition.
"We actually slept here at the station. I was the only one that knew about his diagnosis, and one night, you know, all the guys were fixing to go to bed, and one of the guys goes 'Hey, I don't want to get in Officer Ramon's business, but have you seen him, have you seen his feet?'" said Sgt. Garza. "'Something's wrong with him.' Well, because of the treatments that he takes, 'cause of the chemo, it makes his feet turn color-ish. I had to tell him the truth of what his diagnosis was, and they were just all amazed."
Officer Ramon didn't complain, not for a single second. And after saving all those lives, he still had to save himself. With the airports closed, he then drove through the wreckage to Oklahoma for his own treatments.
Officer Norbert Ramon has lived for two years with Stage 4 colon cancer. He battles every morning for one more day, and there are at least 1,500 people who are here because of his courage.
"And that number actually is probably on the low end," said Sgt. Garza. "But I've always said, to me, what's the most remarkable is just him just doing it and not complaining and not being wanted to be treated anything special."
And when the floodwaters finally cleared, the man who helped save more than 1,500 lives still refuses to take credit for his heroism.
"Oh, I just can't accept it," said Ramon. "I mean, I was just out there working and doing what we do, regardless, you know. I consider every officer out there working, they are all are heroes to me."