The rookie NYPD officer who was critically hurt when a stranger attacked him with a hatchet will accept the police department’s most esteemed award Tuesday, the Medal of Honor.
Kenneth Healey and three other officers were on patrol on Jamaica Avenue in October 2014 when a man charged them with an 18-inch hatchet, gashing Healey in the head and hitting officer Joseph Meeker in the arm.
All four officers will be honored at the morning ceremony at NYPD headquarters. Meeker will receive the Medal of Valor, while officers Taylor Kraft, and Peter Rivera will receive the police Combat Cross.
"A lot of people who receive this award are no longer with us, so it's definitely an honor to receive such a high award from the department," Healey told the I-Team in his first interview about the award.
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"If I could go back in time, I wish nothing like this would ever happened. But I’m still here and it’s definitely an honor," he said.
Healey and three other NYPD officers were on patrol on Jamaica Avenue in October 2014 when they stopped to let a freelance photographer take their photo. As the officers posed for the photo, Zale Thompson charged at them with the hatchet, wounding Healey and Meeker. Two other officers shot and killed Thompson on the street, and authorities said he was still holding the hatchet when he was pronounced dead.
The ax shattered Healey's skull, and he needed numerous surgeries during his recovery. He told the I-Team in an exclusive interview in May 2015 he didn't think it was possible to get hit that hard and survive.
"You know, one second you’re taking a picture and the next, you know, I’m staring at my skull on the floor in a puddle of blood," Healey said. "I had no idea why it happened.”
Healey, who has returned to work on desk duty since the incident, said he still suffers from the injury. But he sees improvements every day.
“It’s definitely been slow progress but I do notice changes," Healey told the I-Team this week. "Every few months that go by I’ll notice things get a little bit better."
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Healey’s fellow officers said they are touched to receive such an honor, and especially impressed by Healey’s remarkable recovery.
"It’s unbelievable, it’s a miracle to see where he’s at now," Kraft said.
Healey said he is especially affected by what he called the lone wolf attack in Orlando this weekend, knowing firsthand how much damage one person can do.
"Going through it myself and, and making it out it’s horrible to hear about what’s happened," he said.
He said he had this message to the survivors: "You can get through it. I did. Just keep fighting, never give up."