Houston Police Officer With Terminal Cancer Helped Save 1,000 Harvey Victims
Bert Ramon is battling stage IV colon cancer, but that didn't stop him from going into Harvey's floodwaters
A Houston police officer assisted in the rescue of more than a thousand people during Hurricane Harvey—and he did it all while battling stage four cancer.
Officer Bert Ramon, a 24-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, ventured into flood waters and faced intense rain in the days after Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August. During a span of three days, Ramon teamed with Houston’s Lake Patrol division to save nearly 1,500 people, including many seniors and children. Ramon muscled through the disastrous storm to reach those in need, and just days later, he would drive to Cancer Treatment Centers of America to receive his bi-weekly chemotherapy treatment.
“I put the cancer past me, I never worry about myself,” Ramon, 55, tells PEOPLE. “I felt real good, and when I came back in I was ready to go back out.”
Ramon was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in March 2016, and doctors told him he had about six to eight years to live. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor the following month, and was placed on desk duty from traffic enforcement as he recovered. When Harvey hit on August 25, Roman drove to Houston’s Lake Patrol division after he couldn’t make it to headquarters downtown due to flooding—because sitting out when people needed rescuing was never an option.
“Seeing the kids, you could see the fear in their eyes,” he says. “Each child had their own expression that I would remember. Some were shivering, some were crying, but each child was different.”
Ramon and the Lake Patrol team went out six to seven hours a day, facing the elements to load people into a group of four boats. They also used social media to recruit civilians to bring lifted trucks to help out in their efforts, because Harvey’s intense rains created floods that were often too deep for the city’s standard vehicles.
“It was constant rain, it never stopped,” he says. “We might have a minute or two where it seemed to quit, then it would just pour down and be constant.”
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But there were moments when Ramon and the team were able to be lighthearted, such as when they recovered a group of senior citizens at an assisted living facility center in Kingwood. “None of them panicked, they were all in good spirits,” he says. “We made jokes about the boat—we told them they were on the San Antonio River Cruise.”
In the end, Hurricane Harvey proved deadly for dozens—at least 70 people have died as a result of the storm. One of the deaths includes Sergeant Steve Perez, who drowned in his patrol car when he couldn’t make it to his station downtown.
Houston officers follow a tradition of sitting outside a fallen officer’s house in the days leading up to their burial, to be immediately available if the family needs help. Ramon recently did that for Perez, and as he drove to the family’s home, he passed through areas of the city that were still under water.
“The libraries, homes, and grocery stores are still flooded,” he says. “It’s unreal.”
But day-by-day, Houston is healing, and Ramon says that helping the city aids in his own recovery as well.
“When I first got diagnosed I used to ask, ‘why me?’ Now I say, ‘why not me?’ I’m an officer,” Ramon says. “I will do something good out of this, and hopefully I will inspire people.”
Today, the cancer has spread from Ramon’s colon to his liver and lungs, but he isn’t focusing on that. Instead, Ramon wants to keep busy—and he says that’s been the key to his well-being so far, even in such dire circumstances.
“Being sick plays in your head if you sit there by yourself. You have to stay busy if not, you’re going to start dwelling on it, and it will consume you,” he says. “I want other cancer patients to go out there and live life—don’t give up the fight. Stay strong.”