NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — NYPD Det. Steven McDonald was New York City’s hero in blue.
McDonald died last month, 30 years after forgiving a teen shooter who left him paralyzed.
Earlier this week, CBS2’s Kristine Johnson sat down with his wife and son who shared their precious memories of their husband and father.
Just a few weeks ago for Christmas 2016, the McDonald home was filled with family and friends, and Det. McDonald was in the merriest of moods. What no one knew, no one could predict, was this would be his last holiday.
Six days into the new year, he suffered a heart attack.
“They brought his heart back,” his wife Patti Ann told Johnson. “I believe it was a gift that he got his heart back so that we could say our goodbyes.”
Four days later, he took his last breath.
“When I gave him his last kiss, he was warm, he looked like he was sleeping,” she said.
In her first interview since her husband’s passing, Patti Ann revealed she’s relying on Steven to get through her new reality.
“I just think of Steven and I know he’s giving me the strength,” she said.
He wasn’t expected to survive the afternoon on that summer day in 1986 when he was shot three times by a 15-year-old he was questioning about a stolen bicycle.
“From the moment he was injured until the day he passed, we could always communicate,” she said. “Because in the beginning, he couldn’t communicate because he couldn’t speak.”
Paralyzed from the neck down, kept alive by a ventilator, he had feelings of hopelessness.
Johnson: “There were times when he thought about suicide?”
McDonald: “There were things going through his mind, and I remember calling Cardinal O’Connor, and he helped him through that.”
“We finally had to say, ‘you can’t do this anymore. I’m pregnant with your baby, I need you,'” she recalled.
He became an inspiration to an entire city — a man who overcame insurmountable odds and then forgave the teen who almost killed him.
“Steven had to do it every single day,” Patti Ann said. “He had to forgive him every day in order for him to keep going.”
The couple’s son, Conor, who became a police officer just like his father, had to forgive too.
“It’s not easy, but we do. We have to understand that we can’t let hate destroy our hearts,” he said.
While raising their son, Steven and Patti Ann’s marriage transformed. Their commitment to one another deepened.
Guided by new purpose, he traveled the globe, encouraging others to forgive as he did. Family photos chronicle McDonald’s remarkable journey, meeting Pope John Paul, laughing with Bono, making silly faces and ringing in 2017 in Central Park.
“We lived a life that not many can say they lived,” Conor said.
Now, with their hero gone, Patti Ann and Conor will make sure Steven’s message of love endures much longer than his life.
Johnson: “When your child asks you, ‘what was grandpa like?’ What do you say?”
Conor: “Just you know, he was a hero. He was the greatest man that I’ll ever know, and he made something dark and ugly into a beautiful thing.”
Patti Ann said her life with Steven truly was beautiful.
“Even though he was in a wheelchair and on a respirator, he did more for me in that situation than any able bodied husband could do,” she said.
Ending on a lighter note, Johnson reported that when Conor was born, Patti Ann had to have an emergency C-section. And when she woke up, Steven had already named him and was the first one to know they had a boy. It’s a story Patti Ann told with a smile, saying it shows Steven’s big, bright personality.