This is the final article in a series counting down the Top 20 Stories of 2010 in Philly lacrosse.
By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/20/11
A year ago today, Eddie DiDonato was lying near death in a Philadelphia hospital bed after being shot six times at close range.
The incident shook the interior of the lacrosse scene in Philadelphia as hard as the shots that rang into his abdomen outside the Old City section of Philly where DiDonato was spending a weekend night out with friends.
DiDonato was a key member of La Salle College High’s state championship lacrosse team of 2004 and a two-time captain for Villanova University. He had just started his life after college and had recently been hired as an insurance salesman.
The details of the Jan. 17 shooting on Market Street remain fuzzy, even today, to DiDonato. His only memories are of survival, and that, he has.
Today, the Blue Bell native is living a full life, working at his insurance gig, while preparing to serve as an assistant high school lacrosse coach.
Yes, DiDonato, 24, bears the scars of a man who now has endured 11 surgeries and was in the Intensive Care Unit at Jefferson University Hospital for nearly a month. But outside of a limp due to nerve damage in his left foot, you’d hardly know the incident even occurred.
The remarkable recovery made DiDonato the No. 1 Story of the Year 2010 as named by Phillylacrosse.com
The alleged shooter, Gerald Ung, 29, a Temple law student at the time, is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 7 in Philadelphia on charges of attempted murder and related offenses. DiDonato will be present at the trial.
But DiDonato’s focus has been to look ahead, not back, since his recovery began of the severe wounds to his liver, lungs, stomach, clavicle, spine and hand.
“It’s amazing even to me because I know where I was at this time last year and how long I was laid up,” he said in a recent interview. “Now, I can stand up straight and I am walking.”
“Looking back, I wouldn’t have been able to see myself at this point. I didn’t know I would be walking around, having a normal social life, enjoying my friends and my life.”
“It’s an awesome thing when I look at how far I have come.”
DiDonato spent several months at Magee Rehabilitation Center after leaving Jefferson. He began out-patient rehab at the end of the spring and still goes to therapy three times a week for his foot. He also undergoes acupuncture in hopes of stimulating the nerves that were damaged as a result of a bullet to his spine.
He no longer needs a cane to walk, and slowly the feeling in his left foot is returning. His nerves have suffered damage and doctors are “cautiously optimistic” that his foot will continue to improve – but they are unsure of how much.
“I still have a brace on my left foot,” he said. “It takes time for nerves to regenerate. All the tests show I am improving in leaps and bounds.”
“I am still weaker on my left side, but my muscles are getting stronger and I can lift my foot a millimeter – I could not lift it at all before.”
Nearly all of his other wounds are fully healed. DiDonato had his last surgery in October to repair a hernia.
DiDonato still has four bullets in his body. But he said his body’s resilience continues to surprise him.
“When they went in to do the hernia, they found an extra rib had grown in,” he said. “My body was protecting itself on its own. It’s an amazing thing.”
DiDonato, living at his parents’ home, returned to work at O’Neill Insurance Company (Nationwide) in Plymouth Meeting on a part-time basis in September and has been working near full-time since November.
He was recently hired as an assistant JV coach at La Salle where he will work with head JV coach Rob Forster, a close friend and teammate on the 2004 state title team.
DiDonato’s doctor at Magee, Dr. Guy Fried, said it was DiDonato’s spirit and will to live that has allowed him to make it back so far.
“He’s used to being down and getting back up,” said Fried. “He’s a fighter and he is someone who will not settle for being down. He steps up and does whatever he has to do.
“It’s been my pleasure to take care of him because he is someone who has fought to make the progress he has made. He’s beating every odd. It takes time, and it takes attitude. We don’t know what will happen (with his foot) but he has the will and a can-do attitude.
“What Eddie continues to do is inspiring to others.”
DiDonato said the biggest reason he survived was the support of others. His father, Ed Sr., visited him every day for months in the hospital, and the rest of his family and friends showered him with support.
“That helped me tremendously,” he said. “There have been so many trials and tribulations, and ups and downs.
“I couldn’t make it by myself. I had to lean on my family and friends. I am so appreciative of the support. I can’t put it into words how it’s helped. Everyone has been awesome.”
DiDonato’s condition stabilizes after being moved back into Intensive Care; is downgraded to critical
DiDonato’s former teammate: ‘It’s pretty incredible how lucky and strong he’s been the past couple of days’
Contributing editor: Kristen Imperiale