Double amputee police officer inspires others

NEW YORK - For Matias Ferreira, becoming a United States Marine was a childhood dream.

"When I moved to the US from Uruguay, I saw a gentleman in uniform, which I now happen to know was a Marine," Ferreira said. "I told my dad I want to be that when I grew up, but I didn't know what that entailed. My father told me those men and women fight overseas."

At 21 years old, Ferreira would get his chance. He enlisted in the USMC. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 served as even more motivation. He was deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2010.

Just four months into his tour, Lance Corporal Ferreira's life would change.

"We were doing what's called a raid -- night mission inside a compound to see if there were any Taliban forces or IED-making materials," Ferreira recalled. "I remember telling my guys, 'Hey stay put. I'm going to go get the rest of the equipment. I'll be right back.' I jumped off the roof and I fell onto a 30-pound bomb."

The IED exploded and shattered his legs below the knees. His pelvis fractured and he suffered other serious injuries.

He remembers the medical helicopter arriving. He remembers his fellow Marines putting him on a stretcher. And then he remembers waking up in a hospital in Germany.

That's when doctors told him he had lost both of his legs.

Tough times and another heroic act

He returned to the US for rehabilitation at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, D.C.

"There were tough times learning how to walk, maybe falling and getting back up," he said. "I was very blessed to survive the blast, so for me to point any finger, it would just be silly. I was just pointing fingers at people to help me. Like, 'Hey you, I want you to help me walk,'" Ferreira said.

He did walk and run again, and it took him just three months of rehabilitation to do it.

Ferreira returned home to Suffolk County, New York, and was soon married.

In fact, on his way to his wedding rehearsal dinner, he acted a hero again. He drove past a car crash and noticed the people in the car were trapped. He reacted quickly, saving an infant from the smoldering wreckage.

"I saw the light signal hovering over the car, there was smoke coming out of the car. I was kind of in shock for a second. I didn't see anyone running to the scene, so I said, 'I got to go help,'" Ferreira recalled.

He soon eyed his next challenge. No longer able to serve overseas, Ferreira wanted to continue a life of service.

After a suggestion by his cousin, he decided to join the Suffolk County police department. As a double amputee, he knew the police academy would be tough. Ferreira said he prepared for the training with his daughter by his side.

"I was going to the park with my daughter and of course there are swing sets and little 5 or 6-foot fences. I would practice jumping over the fence to see if I was able to do it. I knew if I wasn't able to do these things, I wouldn't be an effective police officer," Ferreira said.

Ferreira entered the academy, ensuring to his superiors that he be treated like every other recruit. In one drill, used to practice restraining someone, Ferreria was knocked down.

"It was a good test for them to see," he said, "I was able to pop back up and continue. I don't even remember falling. It was an adrenaline rush."

Class president

Ferreria graduated the academy and was chosen to be class president by his fellow recruits. He called the honor humbling and jokes, "it's because I talk too much."

Officer Ferreira is now into his first week on the job. He is making history in the department as the first double amputee officer to be on full active duty.

Ferreira said he hopes his story inspires younger generations. He works with non-profits, helping people and children living with disabilities. He also plays on athletic teams with others wounded in war.

How do his fellow officers feel about him being on the force?

"They were asking me about what I would do if I broke a prosthetic. I said, 'If I break a leg, I just go into the trunk, put a new one on and I continue my tour of duty. If you break a leg, you are out of the job for a couple of months," Ferreira said, smiling.