Trooper Michael Cokins was told by doctors he would likely never walk again after being critically injured by a drunk driver, but more than two years after the crash, the determined officer is already back on the job -- but the road to recovery wasn't easy.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Chicago, Cokins reflects on the painful journey that followed one of the most shocking moments in his life.
"There were a lot of dark days and frustrating moments," he said.
A 61-year-old woman has been sentenced to prison in the drunk driving crash that critically injured Cokins.
Leslie Thurow, of Mount Prospect, was sentenced to 13 years at the Illinois Department of Corrections after she was charged with several counts of aggravated driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a personal injury crash and aggravated reckless driving, according to Illinois State Police.
Thurow was accused of striking Cokins on Interstate 294 near North Avenue around 2:45 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2014. Cokins was conducting a traffic stop on the right shoulder of the roadway when he was hit by a vehicle.
The driver allegedly continued traveling northbound on I-294, where she hit an SUV carrying a family of four, police said. The SUV rolled over in the crash and the other vehicle crashed into the concrete median.
Cokins suffered 15 broken bones and underwent eight surgeries and 17 months of therapy before returning to work in May, nearly two years after the crash.
Dashcam video captured the accident, showing the horrifying moment Cokins was hurled over the hood of the car he had stopped. The graphic video was played in court during Thurow's sentencing.
"My little sister saw it for the first time [Thursday]," Cokins said. "I've been protecting her from seeing it, having that burned into her mind."
Police said Thurow’s blood alcohol content was over twice the legal limit at the time of the crash and her driver’s license had been revoked for previous driving under the influence convictions. It was not immediately clear if she had an attorney.
“Drinking and driving is a dangerous choice that can lead to deadly consequences,” ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz said in a statement. “Driving under the influence is never a good option and can be very costly both financially and criminally. Always designate a driver before consuming alcohol.”
Cokins thanked the many witnesses that stopped to help him after the crash.
"A dozen if not 20 people that jumped out their cars, ripping off their sweatshirts to tie around my limbs, making sure I stayed ocnscious," he said.
Cokins said he owes his recovery to those people.
"I owed it not only to myself, but also owed it to them to give it everything I got," Cokins said.