TAMPA —Thursday, a facility will open that could improve thousands of lives right here in Tampa Bay and around the world.
It's all to help active-duty military and veterans who have lost a limb fighting for our freedom, and it could be a game changer.
“I was living in New York, so I joined right after 9/11,” said former Army Staff Sgt. William Castillo. “Last tour, we were just going down the road doing some stuff that we do. An IED went off. Next thing you know, I woke up in the hospital at Walter Reed.
"I did lose my leg, but I was the sole survivor, so I was very blessed to be in the position I am in.”
Now, Castillo is a wounded warrior living as a civilian with a disability and all of the difficulties that can go along with it.
That's where the new Veterans International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics, 4809 Memorial Highway in Tampa, comes in.
Some prosthetics patients can wait weeks for a new leg. But the difference between here and anywhere else is that all in one place there's a doctor, a prosthetics specialist, and an engineer to build what’s needed, all working towards the same goal.
“It changes everything. It's no longer ‘I need to find this person, I need to find that person,' you know. If they say no, then the whole system falls apart. Being able to walk through this door and talk to people,” Castillo said.
“You know. I don't got to send no email. This is - walk over there and see what's going on.”
It's the same for former Army Spc. Luis Puertas - now a track and field athlete - who lost both of his legs in Iraq after an IED hit his convoy.
“A lot of times, through the whole rehab process, a lot of times it can be you as a disabled person by yourself. And your family is a little bit lost,” Puertas said. “This institute is providing all of the comforts for everybody to have fun while we're doing this.”
Now, Puertas is looking to medal again - this time in the 200-meter dash in the Paralympics while Castillo hopes to do the same for the bobsled.
The institute's CEO estimates it will employ 300 people helping those who need it.