With thousands gathered in the Plaza Square in Old Towne, Orange Police Officer Sharif Muzayen stood, and with his wife, Vanessa, and their two children at his side, walked 30 feet to the base of an 80-foot tree draped with unlit Christmas lights.
With Mayor Teresa Smith leading the charge, the crowd counted down in unison: “Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”
At zero, Muzayen pulled the lever on an electrical box, officially kicking off the city’s annual holiday festivities.
The tree lights brightly shined.
The crowd cheered.
At the same time last year, taking a single step was impossible for Muzayen, let along walking 30 feet.
At 3 a.m. on Dec. 10, 2016, Muzayen was on a routine call when a car driven by a drunk driver slammed into him as he stood behind a patrol vehicle.
Quick-thinking officers and a sergeant applied a tourniquet before Orange Fire Department personnel arrived and rushed Muzayen to the hospital, where trauma surgeons quickly reconstructed his shattered femoral artery, saving his leg.
Muzayen lost nine pints of blood at the scene and three more en route to the hospital.
Initially, doctors weren’t sure whether Muzayen would survive, and if he did, whether he’d be able to use his leg.
“A lot of doctors told me I would never walk again,” said Muzayen, a former Marine and an Orange police officer for nearly four years. “I can see the progress I’m making. I’m walking mostly without a cane.”
Immediately following the injury, Muzayen spent three days in a medically induced coma.
He was infused with pain medication and antibiotics, and now continues to undergo physical therapy.
The whole time, he’s had a constant outpouring of support from his brothers and sisters in the Orange Police department.
“Not a week goes by where I don’t get calls and messages from these guys,” he said.
The good wishes have not only come from within Orange PD, Muzayen said, but from the community as a whole.
“It’s incredible to find out and see for myself how supportive Orange is as a city,” Muzayen said. “I see people and they say, ‘I’m so sorry. I’ve been praying for you.’ It’s been great.”
Several months ago, a city official called to inform Vanessa that her husband was chosen to light the Christmas tree.
“It’s so touching that they asked him,” Vanessa said. “It’s a heartwarming feeling.”
When the mayor introduced Muzayen, Vanessa, their 9-year-old son, Luke, and their 3-year-old daughter, Leia, to the crowd, she expressed “gratitude of the miracle of Officer Muzayen’ s life.”
“Officer Muzayen’s will to survive, the love of his family, and the support of the Orange community are all responsible for him being here today,” Smith said.
The magnitude of the prayers focused on the family have also played a role, Vanessa said.
“It is just so overwhelming,” she said. “The mayor said that (my husband) brought this whole city to their knees in prayer. That is so impactful to me. We felt it.”