Editor's note: The Daily Times Rewind series revisits stories we have reported on over the past year.
FARMINGTON >> For San Juan College graduate Timothy Velasquez, the operating room is his new home as he adjusts to life as a surgical technician in Colorado.
Velasquez spoke at the college's annual honors forum and reception in April as one of the 18 master scholars who completed the honors program.
He spoke to the crowd about his past drug and alcohol use, time served in prison and overcoming his father's suicide to graduate with his associate degree in surgical technology.
Velasquez has turned his life around, but his past still casts a shadow.
"I can't say anything bad, it's been a hell of an experience," Velasquez said in an interview earlier this month.
Velasquez was in prison from early 2009 to March 2010 for multiple arrests related to drunken driving. When he was released, he made it a point to attend college.
With prison time on his record, Velasquez knew he had to stand out academically and it was his hard work which led to the creation of a honors program for the surgical technology degree.
Velasquez has been working as a surgical technician at the Animas Surgical Hospital in Durango, Colo., since graduation and said he was initially overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in the job.
"I didn't realize the sheer number of people it took to do surgery," Velasquez said. "It's mind-boggling but humbling."
As a surgical technician, Velasquez works with surgeons and other medical personnel to ensure patient safety by preparing the operation room, handling equipment and ensuring everything remains sterile to avoid contamination.
"It takes the weight off the doctor so they can focus on what they are doing," Velasquez said.
Operations involving total knee and total hip replacements are the most interesting surgeries to Velasquez.
"Being able to restore people's quality of life, it's satisfying," Velasquez said. "People who are active folks but older, they will want to be active and healthy."
But Velasquez's past is currently casting a shadow on his future as his medical registration with the state of Colorado is in potential jeopardy.
Due to his arrest record, Velasquez said the Department of Regulatory Agencies office which handles surgical assistant and surgical technician registration is reviewing his file.
"They think, based on my case file, I may be unsafe to work," Velasquez said. "I disagree, people can change. While his registration is being reviewed, Velasquez can still work but if his registration is turned down, he will have to look for work in another state like New Mexico.
"You never really escape your past, you pay for it forever," Velasquez said. "But at the end of the day, those are the choices I've made. It's where I put myself."
For the future, Velasquez is looking at enrolling in online college classes to earn a bachelor's degree in biology along with attending physician assistant school.
"I would like to consult and assist in a more engaged role when it comes to making decisions," Velasquez said. "There's always something more you can achieve."