COVINGTON, Ga. — It's a milestone that could have been taken away - but thankfully, the Covington Police Department is asking others to join them in wishing local hero, Officer Matt Cooper a happy 35th birthday.
Cooper was shot in the head in the line of duty on Labor Day responding to a call. His family and the department are counting the blessings one by one.
"Never take for granted that last candle you place on your birthday cake each year," the Facebook post reads on the Covington Police Department's page. "There are people who have fought for that flame to shine bright; fought for another year to shine their light on this world."
The Army veteran, husband, and father is still recovering from his injury.
Here's a look back at the progress he's made so far.
It was around noon Sept. 3, 2018 when officer Matt Cooper and fellow Covington officers responded to a Walmart off Industrial Boulevard for calls of three suspects who were shoplifting.
Police were able to detain two juvenile suspects, but a third, 21-year-old Aaron Fleming, ran off, followed by Cooper and another sergeant. A short time later, the sergeant heard two gunshots. When he came around the corner, the sergeant found Cooper unconscious and injured. Fleming was found dead shortly after.
Cooper had been shot in the head.
THE JOURNEY AT THE HOSPITAL
Emergency responders rushed Cooper to Atlanta Medical Center in serious condition. He was later moved to Grady Hospital, where he had surgery and was responding to his loved ones.
Officers said Cooper was able to mouth the words "I love you" to his wife, who had not left his side. The nurse even asked him, "Did you just tell her I love you?" He was able to respond by nodding yes, they said.
THE SHEPHERD CENTER
Cooper was moved from the hospital to The Shepherd Center in late September. The center specializes in medical treatment and research for people with spine and brain injuries. During his time there, Cooper made great progress and underwent therapy with a team of specialists.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Cooper was released from the Shepherd Center in December and was home just in time for the holidays. The center said he graduated from its inpatient brain injury rehabilitation.
"Through fist bumps, thumbs ups, hugs and kind words, he greeted and thanked his family and friends, as well as his colleagues from the Covington Police Department, who gave him and his family a police escort out of Shepherd Center and onto Peachtree Road," the Shepherd Center posted.