MALVERNE, N.Y. -- Steven McDonald, the young police officer left paralyzed by a teenager's bullet, returned home Saturday to a hero's welcome and a house specially built to meet his needs.
McDonald, 30, who has dreamed of leaving hospitals for the past 16 months since being shot, smiled broadly in his wheelchair in freezing cold outside his new home as his wife, Patti Ann, 25, stood beside him with their 10-month-old son, Conor, in her arms.
'I'm home. I'm ready,' McDonald said, his voice barely audible to well-wishers who included more than 100 uniformed New York City police officers standing at attention and the department's Emerald Society Band.
Residents of the tree-lined suburban community had tied yellow ribbons around trees in greeting. They waved and cheered as McDonald and Patti Ann arrived from the airport and trip from a Denver hospital in a new van, also specially equipped for McDonald, who will be confined to a wheelchair for life.
Leading the van was a procession of officers on police motorcycles.
New York Mayor Edward Koch handed Patti Ann a large golden key to the house, officially turning the home over to the couple, who celebrated their second anniversary Nov. 9 at Craig Hospital near Denver, where McDonald has spent the past seven months learning to cope with his disabilities.
The officer was shot July 12, 1986, while questioning a youth about bicycle robberies in Central Park. The bullet injured his spine and left him a respirator-dependent quadriplegic with no voluntary control of his body below the neck.
'Steven McDonald has become a symbol of courage,' Koch said. 'He never gave up hope. He never lost heart.'
The McDonalds had been married just eight months on the day of the shooting and Patti Ann was three months pregnant. The young couple awed hardened New Yorkers with their determination and love for each other.
'They have captured the hearts of America,' Koch said.
McDonald spent nine months after the shooting in Bellevue Hospital in New York before being able to move to Craig, where he learned to breathe without a respirator for up to three hours a day, received a new 'trache' tube that allows him to talk and learned to operate a wheelchair and other devices with breathing commands.
The house, near the home of Patti Ann's parents, cost $250,000 to purchase and another $500,000 to equip for McDonald.
Manhattan stockbrokers Richard Fay and Arthur Crames donated the money to purchase the house and the renovations were donated by 50 metropolitan-area contractors.
The modifications include a voice-activated computerized system to control automatic sliding doors, lights, climate and an elevator.
'It's overwhelming, it's great. It's great to be back here in New York,' Patti Ann told the cheering crowd outside the house, bedecked with banners and balloons and with Americanand Irish flags waving on the front lawn.
But Patti Ann said she most looked forward to Sunday when she and her husband and their young son could be alone together in their own home for the first time since a bullet changed their lives.