A former U.S. Navy hospital corpsman and third generation police officer, McDonald was shot three times in the line of duty by 15-year-old Shavod Jones (1971–1995) whom he was questioning about bicycle thefts in Central Park. Detective McDonald and a co-worker were on patrol in Central Park, because there had been reports a robbery in the park. Three young boys between the age of 13 and 15 looked suspicious and started running away when the two police officers went towards them. They split up, and McDonald found them hiding in some bushes. He started to question them, and noticed something in the sock of one of the boys and when he wanted to see what it was, he was shot and nearly killed. The first of the three bullets that hit Steven McDonald hit him in the head, above his eye. The second hit his throat which caused him to have a speaking disability and the third shattered his spine, paralyzing him from the neck down and leaving him quadriplegic and in need of a ventilator.
Jones served nine years in prison for the shooting, and was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 9, 1995, three days after his release on parole. Earlier, Jones called Detective Steven McDonald to apologize, but the two never met in person after the incident.
During McDonald's recovery in Bellevue Hospital, he met Father John J. Kowsky, a former Vietnam Army Chaplain who at the time was the Chaplain of the New York Police department (see Monsignor John J. Kowsky). Monsignor Kowsky's passed away in 1988. Steven also met Father Mychal Judge who became a friend to Steven, his wife Patti Ann and son Conor. Father Mychal Judge,  McDonald formally identified Judge's body on the evening of September 11, 2001.
Several months after his terrible injuries, McDonald reported to the press that he had forgiven the 15 year-old Jones for his actions. McDonald discusses the reasons for his forgiveness in some detail in the Foreword of a book entitled, "Why Forgive?", written by Johann Cristoff Arnold, a pastor and friend. There is a separate chapter in the book, written by Arnold, which discusses McDonald's great generosity of spirit and the nature of his forgiveness.
McDonald's wife of over twenty years, Patricia Ann "Patti" McDonald, was elected Mayor of Malverne on Long Island in March 2007. At the time of the shooting, they had been married for less than a year and Patti was pregnant with their son Conor, who has since followed his father's footsteps and joined the NYPD in 2010.
Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award
The New York Rangers of the NHL established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his honor following the 1987–88 season. Detective McDonald personally presents a Ranger with a trophy and a $25,000 check (in the player's name) made out to the Steven McDonald Foundation.
- "25 Years Later, Paralyzed NYPD Detective McDonald Still Inspiring Others". CBS New York. July 12, 2011.
- "NYPD Photo Release — McDonald, Driscoll Shields". nyc.gov. December 16, 2010.
- "Profile of Steven McDonald". Breaking the Cycle. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- Fournier, Keith A. (11 September 2008). "Fr. Mychal Judge: Ground Zero Hero". Catholic Online. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- Ford, Michael (2002). Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-0552-7.
- "Why Forgive?", written by Johann Cristoff Arnold, Orbis Press, Maryknoll New York 10545
- "Wife of paralyzed cop elected village mayor". New York Daily News. Associated Press. March 21, 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
- "Extra Effort Award". New York Rangers.
- The Steven McDonald Story at Google Books. Pocket Books, 1991.
- Why Forgive, pp 172–192. Plough Publishing, New York, 2010.