CONEY ISLAND — Once upon a time the 41-year-old Mikhail Vinitsky worked as an NYPD police officer. Now, he can no longer speak, use his arms, or walk, and communicates through a computer. Yet, there is always a smile on his face.
Vinitsky, known to most as Mike, was born in Ukraine and raised in Sheepshead Bay. Though he once wanted to become a businessman, he opted for the NYPD instead — to protect those that couldn’t protect themselves, he told us.
In 2007, he was a 29-year-old officer guarding a prisoner at Brooklyn hospital. The prisoner broke the pole on the bed and swung it at Vinitsky’s head. The head injuries were severe enough to force Vinitsky to leave his job at the NYPD serving the 71st Precinct, where he had been working since 2004.
This past summer in July, Vinitsky suffered a heart attack. While he was being treated, it was discovered that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease, or more commonly known as ALS, and he has been in the hospital since then. His only family, his mother, is also sick and elderly. He was all alone at the hospital, with no visitors, until now.
A few weeks ago, a few officers including retired officer Thomas Christ from the 71st Precinct found out that Vinitsky was in the hospital by himself. They turned to social media to rally support. How big are the hearts of Mike’s neighbors, most of whom do not know him personally, is evident in the small room in Coney Island Hospital that is decorated with cards, stuffed animals, balloons, and police patches. The room is also always packed with people coming in and out to say hi to Vinitsky.
“Is this Mike the Police Officer’s room?” an older woman asked us while we were making our way in. She walked inside with a wrapped present and a card. She introduced herself to Vinitsky, who was lying on the hospital bed as just a neighbor who had heard about his story and wanted to meet him in person. She handed his nurse the present, a checkers board game she said. And she turned to Vinitsky and opened the card to show him. He smiled. “God bless you,” she said before leaving before we could catch her name.
Since ALS took away Vinitsky’s ability to talk, he communicates using a visual-based computer, typing with his eyes. As we approached him, his brown eyes attentively turned to face the computer in front of him, and a few seconds later, a message blurted out:
“It’s nice to meet you.”
Vinitsky says he remembers a lot of things about being a cop. He mostly remembers the “calls that I was on and the people that I met in the neighborhoods that I patrolled in. I remember other fellow police officers.”
He explained that he believes in Jesus and that is what keeps him going. It is what gives him hope.
“Upon hearing my diagnoses, my blood pressure went through the roof. I could literally hear my heart beat like a drum,” he said. “However, now I have accepted Jesus Christ. I know that by his stripes that I have healed. I’m not anxious at all. I know that I will live. I don’t even think about death.”
Before he was busy greeting people who showed him support, he spent his days in the hospital learning to use his visual-based computer. He also listened to audible books.
“I tried to use my time constructively,” he said. “I never like wasting time. You can’t get back the time you lose.”
Now, he says, the support he’s been receiving is wonderful. On the walls of his room, there are cards shaped like hearts from elementary school students wishing him well.
“I didn’t think there were that many people that cared about me,” he said. “God bless them.”
Though a lot of his support is physical – people showing up to his room, cards and balloons, the support also extends to online. Currently, there’s a public Facebook group called the Mike Vinitsky Support Group, where people post heartfelt messages for Vinitsky that others read to him upon visiting. But, many of the people there were not very welcoming when they learned Bklyner would be visiting Vinitsky to tell his story.
“She’s anti-cop, doesn’t belong there, Tweets and retweets stories against cops. She needs to stay home,” one person wrote.
“If she’s coming tomorrow let me know what time? I’m retired and I would love to be there to tell her to go fuck herself and then remove her from the premises,” another group member wrote. “It would be my pleasure. Then she could put that in her paper. I’ll even pose for a picture.”
Soon enough, I was blocked from the Mike Vinitsky Support Group by his supporters who couldn’t fathom Vinitsky’s story being told to the world by me.
Vinitsky, on the other hand, is kind. And he laughs, too. Like when the older woman came with the present. She had asked who one of the ladies next to him was. He replied using his computer, “I love nurses.” Did he mean to say that she was his nurse? He replied again, “I love nurses,” and laughed.
Or when we asked if we could take some photos. He closed his eyes and nodded. He then turned to his nurse and glanced up. She seemed confused and then said, “Oh, the lights?” He smiled. She turned on the lights. Then he moved a little bit as if getting himself together. The other nurse came up to him and adjusted his hospital gown and blanket. “You want to look good for the picture, huh?” He smiled.
ALS, Vinitsky says, is the cruelest disease in existence. “But God can heal everything, even ALS. I consider myself healed,” he told us. ALS is a fatal “neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” according to the ALS Association. But Vintisky is not letting that stop him.
“I have more days in front of me where I will be walking, talking, using my arms, and breathing on my own without lying in bed with a ventilator and feeding tube attached to me,” he said. “I know that I will live. I know that this is temporary.”
To support Vinitsky’s medical costs, there is a GoFundMe page set up here.