Suffolk Police Officer Timothy Thrane, critically injured by an alleged drunken driver, spent weeks fighting for his life and yesterday hundreds of his fellow cops cheered his release from Stony Brook University Hospital.
Bagpipes played "God Bless America" as a gurney carrying Thrane, 35, was escorted to a waiting ambulance to be taken to St. Charles Hospital for rehabilitation therapy, where doctors say he must learn to walk again and feed himself. Doctors said he could be home by Christmas.
Police officers lined up outside the hospital and for the first time in a month, Thrane was reunited with his three children.
"I feel great," Thrane said sitting up on a gurney. "It feels great to be one step closer to going home."
He added, "It’s overwhelming, the support I got the whole time. That’s the longest I’ve ever not seen my children."
Thrane was directing traffic and laying road flares just after midnight Nov. 3 at the site of a crash in Yaphank when a Chevrolet pickup driven by William Petersohn, 38, of Mastic, crashed into the back of a GMC Yukon parked nearby, police said. The impact from the crash caused the Yukon to fishtail and spin into Thrane.
His mother, Joann Thrane, said Friday was her birthday and all she wanted was for her son to leave the hospital and see his family.
"Today is the best birthday present I’ve ever had," she said. "It’s a miracle, our Christmas miracle, and he deserves it. He belongs home with his kids."
Thrane has made a full neurological recovery after spending nearly four weeks in a medically induced coma, his doctor said.
"When he woke up, Tim was there. Tim was still Tim," Dr. James Vosswinkel, the chief of trauma surgery at Stony Brook, said.
His family greeted him with flowers, hugs and kisses before he boarded the ambulance, including his wife Janelle Thrane and their children, 3, 5 and 11.
"Hopefully for Christmas, that’s the plan," She said. "It’s been very tough."
Vosswinkel said the effort to save Thrane’s life started at the scene of the crash, where fellow officers trained as EMTs began to care for him with Ridge firefighters and aviation paramedics. He said Thrane was taken to Stony Brook within 30 minutes after the crash.
"It really was a true team to save Tim’s life," Vosswinkel said. "The injuries Tim had were life-threatening and intensive."
As soon as Thrane was struck by the SUV, he fractured his skull, suffering an epidural hematoma — an artery ripped on the inside of his skull, filling blood into his brain. If the blood is not evacuated, patients can suffer permanent brain injury or die quickly, Vosswinkel said.
"It is truly a time sensitive injury," Vosswinkel said. "If it wasn’t for what happened at the scene, and the treatment of that incredible team bringing him here, we wouldn’t have Tim."
When he arrived at the Stony Brook emergency department, Thrane was rushed into brain surgery. He also broke his arm, ripped all the ligaments in his neck, broke his hand and ripped the ligaments in his knee after being struck by the GMC.
Thrane also experienced inflammation throughout his body and became critically ill with adult respiratory distress syndrome, where his body's immune system attacked his lungs, making it difficult to use a ventilator to keep him breathing, requiring a tracheostomy through his neck, Vosswinkel said.
Nearly four weeks after the crash, Thrane’s lungs had recovered to remove the ventilator and he woke up to FaceTime his children.
Doctors said he will still require months of rehabilitation to recover from his physical injuries and lying in bed for the past month.
"He’s completely neurologically intact, but his body’s not there," Vosswinkel said. "He’s got a road ahead of him, but he’s going to be home with his family. He’s going to be a dad, a husband and he’s going to be a police officer again."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he has been at Stony Brook several times for injured officers, but has also celebrated officers recovering from life-threatening injuries going home.
"Unfortunately we have been here before," Bellone said. "But every time we’ve been here, the care for our officers is world class and without question saved lives."
Suffolk County acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron said Thrane was taking the first step to a full recovery after "literally fighting for his life every day."
Cameron said, "This incident highlights the inherent dangers in our profession and why we must continue to eradicate drunk and impaired driving from our roadways."
Petersohn, who was also injured, pleaded not guilty through his attorney during a Nov. 4 arraignment from his hospital room to a misdemeanor charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Petersohn is set to return to court Dec. 22.
Greeting Thrane were three other Suffolk County police officers and detectives who were critically injured and returned to duty — Det. Nicholas Guerrero, Det. Cristopher Racioppo and Officer Mark Collins.
"When there’s a police officer in your family, you get used to missing a lot of holidays together," Cameron said. "But you never get used to the constant concern when they leave their house, they might not return home safely."
A Suffolk County PBA endorsed fundraiser for Thrane had raised nearly $140,000 to cover expenses by Friday.
PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said Stony Brook has saved the lives of five officers in the past seven years.
"You have to remember the sacrifices they’re willing to make on a daily basis are for people they never met," DiGerolamo said. "That’s what defines them."