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Shot in throat, cop fought to return to work

7-8-10 Chicago Police Educati  Training Divison. 1300 W. JacksStreet. Chicago Illinois. Chicago Police Officers from Chicago Police Academy Bicycle

7-8-10 Chicago Police Education & Training Divison. 1300 W. Jackson Street. Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Police Officers from the Chicago Police Academy and Bicycle Patrol Unit gather in the lobby of the Academy to place a memorial in honor of the fallin officer. Here Field Training Officer Stanley Williams (left) salutes officer Michael Lappe holding the memorial of fallin officer Thor Soderberg while Sgt. Jeff Schaaf (Right) lloks on. Photo by Scott Stewart/Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2012 3:18PM

Chicago Police Officer Michael Lappe was shot in the throat and paralyzed while responding to a disturbance in Jefferson Park 24 years ago.

Lappe nearly died. All he could think of then were his wife and daughters.

“I remember saying to my colleagues, ‘Tell Mary and the girls that I love them,’ ” he says. “The bullet had struck my spine and turned me into a paraplegic.”

Lappe spent four months at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Then he was moved to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he had to learn to walk all over again.

Lappe, 57, says he had one goal: to get back on the job.

“People were amazed that I chose to come back to work,” he says. “I fought to come back to work.”

It was tough. Three months before a city doctor examined Lappe to determine whether he could return to the police department, “I was still walking with two quad canes, and I had leg braces, too,” he recalls.

The doctor told him, “ ‘Stand up. Turn around. Do this. Do that.’ Thank God, I didn’t fall over.”

He got the OK to return. In all, he ended up missing less than a year of work.

Lappe came back in a “limited-duty” job, working as a neighborhood-relations officer in the police department’s Jefferson Park District. He created a popular program called “Take a kid fishing day.” He also helped develop the Police Survivors Program, which provides assistance to officers who suffer traumatic injuries.

Now, he works as a field technology officer at the police academy.

Lappe is among 326 officers working limited-duty police jobs. He has been on limited duty longer than anyone else in the Chicago Police Department.

“I always wanted to be a copper since I was a little kid,” Lappe says.

He views his injuries as “an inconvenience” he has overcome.

“I have a significant gait deficiency from a spinal cord injury,” he says. “It’s a very noticeable limp.

“I’m on some medication every day for the rest of my life. It’s more for the neurological damage that was done around my throat. I can perform every kind of function, except run.”

Recently, Lappe was named chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police disability committee.

He says he thinks some of the 347 Chicago officers on disability leave could be placed in limited-duty jobs. He’s for that, saying it would reduce the financial burden of the police pension fund, which, in addition to pensions, also pays disability benefits.

“Unfortunately, there’s people out there who have tried to hoodwink the board or a physician and are less than truthful with their injuries,” Lappe says. “If someone hoodwinks the board, that’s a shame on them. They’re taking part of my pension money and another person’s pension money.

“I’m grateful I’m still here,” he says. “I am so grateful to be able to come back to work and get up every day.”

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