INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 14, 2015)-- IMPD Patrol Officer Santos Cortez doesn't spend his days behind the wheel of a police car, keeping the city's southwest side safe.
The veteran officer instead lies in a hospital bed, waiting for his body to heal, gazing at a builder's brochure of the home he'd like to build for his wife and four children.
A home suited to a man in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down, because of an encounter with a drunk driver.
On the evening of June 10, 2012, Cortez was dispatched to track down a motorist driving erratically along West Washington Street. Instead, Jerrel Watkins' car careened through a stop sign on a side street, striking Cortez' car.
Watkins went to prison, and was released only to be arrested on another alcohol-related charge and go back behind bars.
Cortez went to the hospital where's he spent the majority of his 36 months since the crash while his wife Fran and four children live on top of one another in a 1100 square foot two bedroom apartment now crowded with Daddy's medical gear.
"It hit me really hard," Cortez said from his hospital bed waiting for a hole in his back to heal. "I mean, from infection after infection and taking out bone and it wore me out.
"My wife, she's a saint because she takes on the role of everything, dealing with the kids, the apartment, the bills. She's just a saint. She's actually my hero."
To the people of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the man and boy in the pick up truck passing by who weren't killed because Watkins' car hit Cortez, the Chicago native who worked part time jobs to save up money to buy his wife and kids a house is a hero.
He's got a Purple Heart to prove it. The medal hangs on the wall with photographs of his police career in the Cortez family apartment.
"When I got hit in that accident it kind of took everything away," said Cortez, tears filling his eyes. "You kind of go like feeling like a strong husband and provider to somebody who can't take care of their family anymore and that's the hardest part.
"You can't support your family like you're supposed to. Like a man's supposed to."
"I wanted to give my wife a house since we've got married and give my kids a yard and swing set and play set, and when that happened, it was like a Mack truck hitting your dreams and taking them away."
Cortez is still a police officer, drawing a salary, waiting to recover enough to come back to work.
The money the family saved for a house went toward medical bills and expenses instead.
Officer Cortez still wants to buy his wife and children the house they deserve, the dream that was shattered by a drunk driver.
"I'm going to take out a loan," he said. "At least I can say I'm helping my family and I feel like I've got something invested in it."
Santos and Fran are not alone. The Indianapolis Police Foundation is launching its "Home for a hero" campaign to raise the money it'll take to put the Cortez mom and dad and kids under one roof.
"Most people are familiar with the Cortez family and the story but it truly embodies our mission to not only help officers in the line of duty but officers that are injured," said Executive Director Dane Nutty, "but we are always there for officers no matter what and we would certainly like to do that for the Cortez family.
"The Cortez family wakes up to their strength and to my point they deal with this every single day and it's not only do I feel our privilege to do so but our duty to help this family."
The Foundation, known for its work in providing trauma kits to police officers and participating in the "I Will Always Get Out Of My Car" t-shirt drive in honor of fallen Officer Perry Renn, is a non-profit agency meaning all donations are tax deductible.
While he's waiting to get better, Santos Cortez imagines the house he needs help to buy.
"You need wider doors, from a standard house, you just need bigger doors for a wheelchair, special shower that you can roll into has a bench in it so you can take a shower, ramps for every doorway," he said. "They're going to help me."
If you would like to lend a hand to an officer who gave up his legs to protect a city he came to love, visit this link .