Camilo Penagos, 32, from Bogotá, Colombia is no stranger to major life upheavals. At an early age, he had to learn how to cope with one of the hardest things that can happen to anyone — a spinal cord injury — and he never let his injury to prevent him from achieving professional success. Read his story of survival below.
Born and raised in the capitol city of Colombia, Camilo was only 15 years old when his life drastically changed. “When I was in school, a classmate came in, shooting and unfortunately he shot me in back. That was in April 2006 and occurred here in Bogotá,” he says.
Camilo’s doctor made it clear from the beginning that having an injury at T4 would make life activities harder due to lack of core strength. “I went to Teletón near Bogotá for my rehab. In the beginning they showed me people who were walking and my expectations were high, but in the end I understood that the rehabilitation was to learn to live in a new way. It was a good experience however,” he says. After a month, he returned home to finish school.
For many people, transitioning home after a spinal cord injury is difficult, with depression all too common but for Camilo that was not the case. He credits learning how to drive as being one of his biggest saviors. “After returning home, I had to move to the first floor but when I learned how to drive, that was the best because it gave me the tools to do my life.” “I’m independent now and its great.”
He does say however that a difficult aspect of returning home and living life with paraplegia has been the social aspect of the injury. Camilo, a shy person his entire life, had a hard time after his injury and trying to live his life again. “After my injury it became more difficult to interact with others, but year by year it has gotten easier.”
Life in Colombia
A goal Camilo set for himself after high school was to go to university and become a System Engineer, which he succeeded in. “I work here in the Bogotá Treasury Office. I’m a System Engineer. I would like to study more things related to my field, but sometimes pressure injuries limit me. When I get in control of my pressure injuries I can resume other studies, projects and other things I like more.”
Camilo is also vocal about the social change he wants to see in Columbia. He says that people with disabilities are not fully accepted into society and it needs to change. “The principal problem is the culture of the people. They don’t respect things like disability parking for example. People with disabilities are often looked at with a medical point of view, and nothing more.”
He says that Colombia does have laws and various disability benefits in place, but the country falls short socially. “Bogotá authorities in just a couple of years have taken actions to improve the accessibility,” he says. “But I prefer the change of mind of people instead of ramps.” He does say that the city of Bogotá itself is fairly accessible, but if you live in the country, it can be quite difficult for wheelchair-users he says.
When he’s not busy working, Camilo loves to swim, in addition to driving and exploring his country from his car. “I love it,” he says. And he hopes to get out and explore even more once his skin gets back to good health.
– Follow him on IG at @camipenagosc