There were tears and prayers at the Suffolk police officer's bedside. Doctors gave Nicholas Guerrero a slim chance of surviving a severe head injury sustained in the line of duty.
But Guerrero, struck by a hit-and-run driver last month, didn't just survive. Friday, he smiled and waved as he was wheeled out of Stony Brook University Hospital. Dozens of applauding officers lined the lobby, forming a blue pathway.
Dr. James Vosswinkel, one of Guerrero's doctors, said the patient defied the odds: Two out of three people with similar injuries die.
"We are all ecstatic today at his great recovery," said Vosswinkel, chief of trauma surgery. "He is an individual who has recovered and has high prospects of returning back to a full life."
Guerrero, 36, part of the Second Precinct crime section, now faces weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, doctors said.
The four-year veteran and his partner, Heriberto Lugo, were in plain clothes but wearing police vests and shields on Sept. 22 when they pulled over a stolen 2014 Ford Explorer on Partridge Lane in Huntington.
The driver, Chad Morizsan, 34, suddenly drove off at a high rate of speed, striking Guerrero and Lugo, who was treated and released, police said.
Morizsan and his passenger, Nicholas Franzone, 22, were arrested later that day in Central Islip when they stopped to buy a TV with a stolen credit card, authorities said.
Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota has said he will seek the maximum sentence -- 50 years in prison -- on the top charges. The defendants face 28 counts, including vehicular assault and grand larceny.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone visited Guerrero the day he was admitted and many times afterward. He joined top police officials at the hospital Friday.
"When we came here that first day you could see the looks of concern on everyone's face -- even the doctors," Bellone said. "This was as serious as it gets. Seconds, minutes, counted in terms of saving his life the first week."
Vosswinkel said first responders at the scene quickly suspected Guerrero had a serious brain injury because he'd been hit by an SUV and was unresponsive.
He was put on life support and flown to the hospital. Tests confirmed there was dangerous swelling in the officer's brain, prompting doctors to put him in a medically induced coma.
"At this point in time, there was significant concern on the physicians' part for his survival," Vosswinkel said Friday.
Guerrero's father Nicholas, sister Magda and nephew Giovanni remained at his bedside, officials said. Fellow officers also held vigil.
"Police did not leave his side 24/7," Vosswinkel said.
Guerrero underwent two surgical procedures to treat the brain swelling, doctors said.
"He was in everyone's prayers, beginning with his immediate family, to his police family and all of the hospital staff," Vosswinkel said.
After the swelling subsided, Guerrero regained the ability to speak and walk, Vosswinkel said.
Police Commissioner Edward Webber said he was amazed by Guerrero's recovery.
"The strength and faith he has shown has inspired us all," he said.