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More than a year and a half after the Pulse massacre, first responders still struggle with the trauma



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Jessica and Gerry Realin were on vacation when he got the call that the hazardous materials team needed him at Pulse to help remove the bodies from the club. Hours later, when the former Orlando Police officer finally arrived home, his wife saw a different person.

"He had a very stark, dazed and confused look – and I noticed he was still wearing his goggles and a glove from the scene," she says. "I had him strip down to his boxers before he got in the house. He looked in both kids' rooms and went to shower. Then I heard the most gut-wrenching wailing. I had never heard that sound from my husband. He was grieving for those people."

The past 19 months have been a rollercoaster for the Realins. After spending at least five hours inside the club removing the dead, Gerry Realin was diagnosed with PTSD. OPD offered Realin a desk job at the city, but his doctors concluded the experience left him "permanently and totally disabled" after working 13 years with OPD. The city's police pension board later granted him a full retirement pension, which is 80 percent of his salary for the rest of his life.

Jessica Realin says her husband is doing better now that he has fully immersed himself in treatment. But she has had to get a job to afford the $2,300 monthly bill they get for the city's health insurance.

Gerry Realin is trying to recover $25,000 in lost wages from the city under Florida's workers compensation laws by arguing his PTSD has physically manifested as hypertension, but last Friday a judge denied his request. Realin filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department last month, alleging other officers harassed him after his PTSD diagnosis and that the department violated Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards regarding blood-borne pathogens by not providing proper safety equipment to the hazmat team removing bodies from Pulse. In a statement, the city categorically denied Realin's allegations and said it is "committed to the health and well-being of our first responders."

"[OPD] offered unlimited resources in an effort to facilitate Mr. Realin's recovery and return to meaningful employment," city spokesperson Jessica Garcia said in a statement. "The [department] stayed in contact with Mr. Realin out of concern for his well-being, to determine his ability to return to work, and advise of benefits available should he not be able to return to work."

"My husband loved what he did," Jessica Realin says. "When you see any other officer get physically injured, Orlando goes above and beyond to be there for them. They do fundraisers, they bring casseroles to the house, they do yard work. My husband was injured, too, but instead they told him he needed to suck it up."

A frustrated Delgado says he knows many OPD officers and Orange County deputies that are suffering from PTSD but still refuse to talk about it.

"I mean, what better poster child than me, who asked for help and got terminated from his job," he says. "They won't come out, but that's going to affect them down the line. It's going to be like a pressure cooker just waiting to explode."

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