An NYPD officer critically injured in a Brooklyn arson last month was released from the hospital Monday amid cheers and applause from her fellow officers and a tribute from a bagpipe band.
Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, a mother of four, was wheeled out of New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell to a black Chevrolet Impala and left at about 12:38 p.m.
Two of her young daughters, each wearing a police hat too big for them, led the procession to the car. Rodriguez, who held a bouquet of red roses and sprigs of baby's breath, smiled as scores of officers watched her come into the outdoor sunlight for the first time in six weeks.
"It is a huge, huge morale boost for her," said deputy inspector Carlos Valdez, commander of the housing unit where Rodriguez is assigned.
Rodriguez had been hospitalized since April 6 when she and officer Dennis Guerra responded to a fire on the 13th floor of 2007 Surf Avenue in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. Both officers took an elevator to the floor but were immediately overcome by smoke and toxic fumes from the fire, allegedly set by 16 year-old Marcell Dockery.
Guerra, 38, died April 9 after sustaining severe damage to his lungs. Dockery was then charged with felony murder as well as arson, charges to which he has plead not guilty. Guerra's family was on hand to watch Rodriguez leave the hospital.
Rodriguez suffered the same injuries as Guerra and doctors figured there was a 50 percent chance she would die. But as time went on and her lungs healed with the help of a breathing machine and medication, it became clear she'd survive.
"We are delighted," said Dr. Palmer Bessey, associate director of the hospital's burn center.
Bessey said it was hard to say if Rodriguez would return to work as police officer, something she had expressed a desire to do, according to Valdez.
"I think physically she can, and the issue is what it will do to her own sort of confidence and ability to sort of not be a little bit afraid," Bessey said.
At the same time, Rodriguez has a "fabulous" attitude about recovery and tries to push herself a little further every day, according to Bessey.
The doctor thinks that the difference in age between Rodriguez and her partner, as well as the fact that Guerra had suffered a heart attack, contributed to the different outcomes for the two officers.
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, praised Rodriguez in a statement as a "representative of what drives New York City police officers."
"She is strong, determined and confident. She is totally dedicated to her family and her city and that is what drives her return to health," Lynch said.
"We are gratified that she has recovered enough to return to the family she loves and we pray that she will continue to heal and one day be able to return to patrol."
-- With Gary Dymski