Sometimes it’s the involuntary responses — the ones that take no thought at all — that matter most.
For the past several months, Marine Park residents Donna and Stewart Weinstein have been pinning their hopes for their son Michael’s recovery on these ever-so-important autonomic signals as the 22-year-old police officer lies comatose, the victim of a horrific summertime automobile collision.
But their grim vigil has been made much easier by another autonomic response — one they never expected.
It was the reflexive outpouring of support from Michael’s NYPD family, who are not about to give up on their sleeping brother.
Stewart Weinstein, a paramedic for the FDNY, said that each and every day that Michael was in the hospital colleagues from Patrol Borough Brooklyn South came by to visit him.
Visitors have included Chief Joseph Fox, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has made it a point to visit Michael repeatedly during his off hours; walking into the hospital in jeans and polo shirts.
“(Commissioner Kelly) slips in and out and you never know he was there,” said Weinstein. “He does it without any fanfare. Chief Fox is constantly there.”
“I know it sounds corny, but it’s true,” he continued. “A tragedy like this happens and my family grew by 35,000. Cops come up on their days off, when they finish their shift…there’s at least one police officer in the hospital room with Michael at any given time.”
Even as Michael returned home from the hospital this week for more personal care as his slumber continues, a cadre of cops were at his Marine Park home to welcome him back.
Friends and family members said young Michael, a graduate of St. Edmund’s High School who grew up mastering the art of spear fishing, always wanted to be a cop.
He took the civil service exam right out of high school, Stewart remembered. He was taking college courses when he was told that there could be an opening in the FDNY academy first.
But Michael’s infectious smile and rugged good looks (he resembles a young Glenn Ford) would be lost under a firefighter’s face mask. There was no deterring him: he wanted to be a police officer.
Michael was just eighteen months out of the academy, still feeling out his position as a member of Brooklyn South Task Force, when his motorcycle slammed into another vehicle. He was off duty at the time.
Doctors said he sustained a broken wrist, a broken shoulder, and a punctured lung during the collision.
But those wounds healed quickly.
It was the head injuries he suffered that have left his parents and two sisters — who also want to be police officers -- on pins and needles.
“That’s what he’s fighting to recover from right now,” Stewart said. “He’s half in and half out. Sometimes he opens his eyes and looks around, but he doesn’t speak.”
“On the night of the accident, the doctors said that it’s 1000 to 1 shot that he would make it,” he continued. “But he’s tough. We’re hoping that he’ll come to sooner or later, but we’re realistic. He may never snap out of it.”
Faced with the grim forecast, Stewart said that the cops who line Michael’s room with pictures of happier times and cover his sleeping form with an NYPD blanket (Stewart first put an FDNY blanket down first, but that error was quickly rectified) make the maddening hours more manageable.
“If there’s anything we need, anything we want, all we have to do is pick up the phone,” he said.
He didn’t know just how effective the NYPD can be until the day came when he told Police Commissioner Kelly that one of the few things that kept him and his wife going as they tend to Michael was the story of ABC reporter Bob Woodruff, who was nearly killed by a roadside bomb while covering a story with the troops in Iraq.
“That happened nearly three years ago. Everybody wrote him off for dead, but his wife kept believing that he was going to make it and he did. Now he’s back on TV and he looks great,” Stewart said.
During a passing conversation, Stewart told Kelly that Bob Woodruff’s story gave him strength.
Then, roughly a week later, Kelly calls him, asking if he can come by the hospital.
A few minutes later, Kelly comes in with Bob Woodruff at his side.
“It was amazing,” Stewart said. “(Woodruff) stayed with us for a long time, talking about his recovery and that we should never give up. When my wife asked him how his wife coped with everything, he gave her his wife’s number, so she could talk to him directly.”
Chief Joseph Fox, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Brooklyn South, said that the NYPD’s steadfast support in these matters knows no bounds.
“A number of years ago, Police Commissioner Kelly was giving a presentation of business leaders and spoke about how the NYPD has a unique ‘culture of caring’,” Fox explained. “I have seen a lot of line of duty deaths and injuries and off duty deaths and injuries in my 27 years on the force and everyone of us exhibits this culture of caring, from the beat cop to the police commissioner. It’s instinctive.”
“It amazes me to see all of the guys in Michael’s squad bringing over food and transporting the family back and forth to the hospital and (Commissioner Kelly) coming by to visit all hours of the day or night giving Mike and his family the strength and resilience they need right now.”
But that creates another reflexive action, Fox said.
“While they would say that we give them support, their strength and resolve inspires us,” Fox said.