WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KTVU) - Friday marked a homecoming for a Walnut Creek police officer.
Tom Brown’s bones were broken, but not his spirit. He returned to patrol duty for the first time since a fleeing suspect caused him major injury on July 16, 2016.
"I saw the car for about a second, long enough to say 'oh this is going to hurt,'" Officer Brown told KTVU, as he drove on the quiet street where a hit-and- run suspect rammed his vehicle head-on at high speed.
Brown was rushed away in an ambulance and remembers the surgeon's words that night.
"He said, you know you might not be able to keep your leg," said Brown.
"So to go from that to being back at work 19 months later, it feels good, really good to be back."
Brown knew on impact that his injuries were severe. "I broke my hand, my nose got broken, two ribs, " he recounted.
His right leg took the brunt of it, suffering a fractured femur, a fractured tibia, a torn meniscus in his knee, and torn ligaments.
He showed KTVU a photo of the scar that runs almost the length of his leg. Brown spent one month in the hospital and required multiple surgeries. A plate and screws put his leg back together with a total of 4 lbs. of titanium in his body.
Yet he likes to think he was in the right place at the right time.
"That night, if he hadn't hit me, he probably would have killed somebody, he was so reckless and so dangerous," Brown said.
In the days after the crash, a lot of attention went to Sheyna, the Walnut Creek Police dog, who was stabbed several times by the suspect as he tried to run.
"Our lieutenants and captains are saying, 'our officer is going to be all right. But everyone wants to know is the dog going to be okay?" said Brown.
"They raised $8,000 on a GoFund Me account for the dog and I got a free sandwich," he said.
Brown's sense of humor was an asset as he endured hundreds of hours of grueling physical therapy. The goal was always getting back to police work- something he never considered walking away from.
"That's not for me, I still have a lot to give this community," he said. "There's still stuff I want to do and I still love my job."
The 33-year-old hit and run suspect was sentenced to two years in prison. Brown says he doesn't resent the physical pain he suffered as much as the time lost with his family.
"The moments you don't get back are the ones that hurt the most," he said.
Brown is married with two sons, ages six and seven.
"Missing the chance to teach them how to ride a bike. Not being able to go play catch with them in the backyard. Those were some of the hardest things," he said.
At the crash scene, all these months later, neighbor Jesus Huerta came out to greet Brown.
Huerta was the resident who called 9-1-1, he said.
"Well thank you for your help," Brown said to Huerta.
"I'm just glad to see you're okay," said Huerta. “Because that crash was no joke."
Looking back, Brown is grateful to his Walnut Creek Police colleagues for supporting his recovery with calls and visits, even meals.
"You have to dig deep sometimes and find the willpower to fight on and strive on," said Brown. "But when you overcome your challenges, it just makes you a stronger, better person in the end."