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    Legislator faces brain surgery

    By TIM NICKENS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 4, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- In the first week of the legislative session, freshman Rep. Sara Romeo of Lutz experienced headaches and went to the hospital.

    As the session ends today, Romeo faces surgery next week to remove a tumor in her brain stem. She said Thursday it is unclear whether the tumor is malignant.

    Romeo, a 51-year-old mother of three, confided in some of her legislative colleagues several weeks ago about her illness. But the Democrat said she was determined to make it through the session and did not speak publicly about it until Thursday.

    "As bad as the Legislature is, it's been a pleasant distraction," Romeo said. "My resolve was very strong to complete this."

    So Thursday afternoon, Romeo stood on the House floor to explain a consumer protection bill that was approved unanimously.

    Then she announced that she faces surgery next week at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

    She has no plans to resign from the House seat she won last year.

    "I have every reason to believe it will be successful and I will be fit as a fiddle to return to the Legislature," she said to applause from House members.

    Romeo is in her first year of elected office. In November, she became the rare Democrat who captured a previously Republican seat, succeeding Victor Crist in House District 60, which runs north and east of the city of Tampa.

    Romeo is executive director of Artists Unlimited, a non-profit studio that promotes the arts for needy children. Previously, she was a leader among merchants and preservationists in Ybor City, where she and her husband Walter operated Romeo Stylish Furniture.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney praised Romeo's perseverance during the legislative session.

    "Somebody has defined character as what you do when nobody else is looking," he said. "But some of us have been watching, and the way you have conducted yourself this session is an example of heroism."

    - Times staff writer Bill Coats contributed to this report.

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