How many people can say they’ve survived a gunshot to the skull that was fired only five inches from the head?
NYPD Detective Kevin Brennan is one of the very few, and he reckons the luck of the Irish was on his side during the fateful night on January 31 when he was shot on duty by a career criminal during a chase in Brooklyn.
“Yes, absolutely, the luck of the Irish,” he laughed during an exclusive interview with the Irish Voice this week.
Brennan, 29, knows how incredibly fortunate he is to be alive. A true miracle man, he spent only 10 days in Bellevue Hospital after he was rushed there for emergency surgery after the shooting to remove the gunshot from his head.
Brennan’s story of survival against all odds became an international media sensation, but the soft-spoken officer is taking all the attention in his stride, focusing on his recovery and responsibilities to wife Janet and baby daughter Maeve, only 13 weeks old.
Speaking to the Irish Voice from his home in Garden City Park, Long Island, Brennan says he’s also had more time to get in touch with his Irish roots while he recovers. This Thursday, the American Ireland Fund will honor Brennan at an event in New York, and he plans on going to Ireland for the first time next year.
“My grandparents were born there. My family comes from counties Kerry and Cork,” Brennan says.
“And my wife is Irish from the South Side of Chicago. I thought I had a big family (Brennan has three brothers) until I met her – she’s one of 14, and her maiden name is Dempsey.”
Brennan says he and his brothers were always aware of their Irish roots while growing up in Bellmore, Long Island. But he’s the only one who choose a career in law enforcement – one brother is a teacher in Hong Kong, another is an electrician with Local 3 in New York, and the third works in insurance sales in the city.
Brennan always gravitated towards police work, he says, and he joined the NYPD six years ago. He’s a member of the NYPD Emerald Society, and for the past few years he’s marched with the group in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade.
But not this year. “Obviously because of everything that has happened I’m going to be unable to march, but I’ll be watching from home,” he says.
Daughter Maeve, the couple’s only child, is clearly the light of her dad’s life. And her Irish name was given so that she’d stand apart from the crowd.
“We wanted an Irish name, we wanted a pretty name, and we didn’t want one where three other girls in her class at school would have the same name. We looked through a book of Irish names and we found Maeve. That’s the one we liked the most,” Brennan said.
Though Brennan is currently undergoing therapy and rehab, his journey to the full recovery his doctors are expecting is made all the more easier by his baby girl.
“When I first got home from the hospital I was still in a lot of pain and I wasn’t able to hold her, but some of the pain has subsided and I can hold her now and play with her a little more than I could a month ago. And I’m happy about that,” he says.
Janet Brennan has also been steadfastly by her husband’s side since the shooting. The young couple only recently discussed in detail the enormity of the shooting and its miraculous aftermath.
“It’s funny. We actually spoke about it last week. The time in the hospital, there were so many people there, it was kind of crazy. And then being home it was very hectic with visits and doctor’s appointments,” Brennan says.
“Last week was the first time that we kind of had a long talk about the whole thing. It was a little emotional.”
Brennan is aware now that his story of survival catapulted him to hero status not only in the city, but throughout the world – the Irish newspapers took notice, as did media outlets all over.
“My first few days in the hospital I was out of it,” says Brennan, who was conscious when doctors removed the bullet from the base of his skull.
“I didn’t really realize how big of a story it was. I have a cousin in Australia and she’s been telling me that it’s been all over the media there. I couldn’t believe it.”
The best news of all is that the future looks bright for Brennan, with his medical team confident that he will make a full recovery. He’s not there yet – there are still some vision problems, still residual pain to cope with – but it looks like he’ll be back on the force either in the fall of this year, or early in 2013.
Will he return to patrol duty on the city streets? “No, I think I’d be single if that was the case,” Brennan laughed.
“I assume I’ll be doing some kind of inside detective investigation type work. My time on the street is going to be on hold for now.”
Last month Brennan was promoted from officer to detective during an emotional ceremony presided over by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Also promoted was another hero Irish American detective, Kevin Herlihy, who survived a gunshot wound to the arm during a Valentine’s Day shootout at a subway station in Harlem.
Brennan also rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, February 29, something that he said he never thought he’d have the chance to do.
Kelly summed it up best after that event: “Kevin is a hero in every sense of the word. We thank God that it turned out the way it did. We’re all extremely proud of him.”