As a child and young man growing up in Puerto Rico, Tony Roman dreamed of working in the medical field.
It only took 30 years and living halfway around the world from UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital for him to realize his goal. The retired U.S. Air Force linguist now works as an interpreter, connecting Spanish-speaking patients and families with their care providers.
“I enjoy the sense of helping others,” Roman said. “It’s fulfilling to be the vehicle so patients can communicate their story.”
A good day is when his appointment calendar is full and takes him to various parts of the sprawling campus.
“The more people I can help in a day, the better,” he said.
But even in the most difficult situations, he finds happiness.
“We help with end-of-life discussions,” Roman said. “And with COVID, we’ve had to help with a lot of them. Even though that’s a negative event, it still feels good to convey a loved one’s wishes.”
Roman leans on his faith to support him through the tough times as well as his wife Jo, a retired nurse.
“We talk about our days when we get home,” Roman said. “It helps to get it off our chests and out on the table.”
Roman is active in Our Lady Mother of the Church in Commerce City where he serves and is studying to become a deacon. On occasion, he’s found himself face-to-face with a parishioner at work. When that happens, he’s careful to separate his professional life from his personal.
“The conversation usually goes something like ‘Right now, I’m your medical interpreter and we need to focus on that,’’’ Roman said. “But I always offer to talk with them about a spiritual issue after work or on the weekend.”
Roman laughs about his circuitous route to health care, one that began when he enlisted in the Air Force in 1985 at age 25. When told all training slots in medical fields were full, he picked languages over computer programming and chose to learn Russian over Chinese and other languages. His choices led him to a three-year deployment to Japan and long hours translating intercepted Soviet-era military radio transmissions. He later worked as a “satellite driver” and in military intelligence.
“I only work in Spanish now,” Roman said. “But Natalya (Natalya Moroz, metro Denver Russian interpreter), makes me practice. She said she will only talk to me in Russian from now on.”