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No. 1 Story of 2010 in Philly lacrosse: DiDonato’s spirit and will helped him recover from six gunshots

Thursday, 20th January 2011

Categories Boy's/Men's, Features  

This is the final article in a series counting down the Top 20 Stories of 2010 in Philly lacrosse.

By Chris Goldberg, 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.

La Salle and Villanova graduate Eddie DiDonato has made a remarkable recovery from a shooting incident last year

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

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.”

Previous posts

Eddie DiDonato shows progress in his rehab: ‘Every day I feel lucky to be here’

Eddie DiDonato continues rehab: ‘I have learned patience … and about humility’

Eddie DiDonato gives first interview: ‘The first thing I remember’ after the shooting

Alleged shooter of Philly lacrosse standout DiDonato is bound for court on charge of attempted murder

Lacrosse star Eddie DiDonato to give first interview since Philadelphia shooting

Best friend: DiDonato continues to make great recovery after ninth operation since Old City shooting

DiDonato remains in fair condition as recovery from weekend scare continues

Former Villanova captain DiDonato upgraded to fair condition after major scare caused by infection

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’

Best friend: DiDonato in good spirits after another round of surgery

Shooting victim DiDonato is upgraded to fair condition; few details known about incident as police continue investigation

Shooting victim DiDonato continues to recover after morning surgery

DiDonato update: Best friend says shooting victim is squeezing his hand and that his fight for life is a ‘miracle’

Contributing editor: Kristen Imperiale

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  1. Sean says:

    1. A man armed with a gun, especially an armed criminal or a professional killer.
    2. A man skilled in the use of a gun.

    Gerald Ung was not an “alleged gunman” — He was not an armed criminal, nor was he a professional killer; and he most certainly was not “skilled in the use of a gun”, unless simply being able to pull a trigger makes one “skilled”.

    If you’re going to show so much bias in the reporting of your “news”, please at least make sure the words you use are properly researched.

    • Kevin says:

      Hey Sean, it says “Am an armed with a gun, especially an armed criminal or a professional killer.” So that means that a man armed with a gun is still a gunman. And obviously Gerald Ung had a gun. If you’re going to call out the writer of this article for being biased an attempt to use definitons to prove your point, make sure you do it correctly.

      • Sean says:

        I think I did prove my point — “gunman” shows a bias towards the negative. (And I also notice the article was changed)

        I’m sure if Chris had used the phrase “allegedly defending himself” instead of “alleged gunman”, people on your side of the fence would be complaining about that.

        I appreciate that the word was changed to “shooter” — it is at least a more neutral word and shows less bias — which, in my mind, is what a good reporter should be doing.

    • Ed says:

      Sean I am a lacrosse father with a doctorate. I can guess that you are a young man with some social and interaction issues. You missed the import of the story and about the fight to return to normalcy. Its not about your self important, hyper critical analysis. Nor is it about your perceived bias for the distraught lunatic with the gun. Its about 11 surgeries, pain and strength of spirit. You should be talking to a professional

      • Sean says:

        Hi Ed,

        I’m a father as well (rugby instead of lacrosse) with several degrees. I can guess that you are an old man that runs around with your doctorate making wild assumptions about others after having read only a few of their words. Gee, that’s very learned of you.

        I agree part (maybe even a big part) of the story was the fight to return to normalcy and I appreciate that portion of the story – but Chris Goldberg has shown a tremendous amount of bias in his reporting of this story from the very beginning. (Unlike you, I don’t base my comments on one small statement of another and then tell that person to seek professional help — I’ve stated my opinion after reading several of Chris Goldberg’s “news” articles). I understand Eddie’s friends rallying to his support, but the man harassed and tried to attack another human being — and when that human defended himself, Chris calls him a “gunman” — which obviously has negative connotations.

        You too show an obvious bias, calling the man who defended himself a “distraught lunatic with the gun” — I have to wonder, with all that education, could you yourself step back and put yourself in a neutral position (instead of a family friend of Eddie’s) and still say the same? If your son was being attacked and he defended himself, would you still call him a “distraught lunatic”? You don’t know the reasons for Gerald carrying a gun to defend himself, but in today’s society, it seems like a pretty sane thing to do.

        I don’t deny I show a bias. I believe Gerald did the right thing in defending himself. He then stayed, offered assistance and called for help after the shooting — which to me shows he has character as well.

        But then again I’m not the one writing “news” and spreading it as “fact”. There’s a reason judges recuse themselves when they have a personal bias — it would be nice if reporters did the same.

        • Mark says:

          Sean, you’re an idiot, and I don’t need an advanced degree to make that evaluation. One guy has a gun and shoot’s an unarmed person…and you think that is doing the right thing?

          • Sean says:

            Let’s assume Gerald didn’t have a gun.

            Let’s assume Gerald was sober and bumped into a bunch of alcohol crazed meat-cakes with egos the size of their muscles. He apologizes (or not — maybe he just continued on) and they start following him and demanding an apology (or worse, just outright threatening to kick his butt). He’s trying to avoid a scene and just get away from five guys that are much bigger than himself. (These details will come out in trial, I’m sure.)

            Let’s assume he doesn’t get away and they beat him silly. It makes the news, and you think Eddie and his friends were stupid, but chances are he gets away with it and life goes on. Maybe they put Gerald in the hospital and Eddie spends a year or two on probation. Either way, it wouldn’t be making the news this story is, and the only victim would have been Gerald — or maybe not. Maybe the lacrosse players also beat Gerald’s girlfriend, or maybe even rape her.

            There were FIVE muscle bound guys against ONE guy. Even if you do a reverse (Eddie and friend sober, Gerald is the drunk one pushing for a fight), it’s still FIVE GUYS AGAINST ONE. How is that a fair fight anywhere? You expect Gerald to fight fair (in your words “the right thing”) and go up against five bigger than himself? I don’t hear you saying “Eddie should have done the right thing and just let it go.”

            Just because a guy is unarmed does NOT make him “undangerous”. And certainly not when he has four other muscle bound friends to back him up. Gerald *did* do the right thing — he defended his life. Eddie and friends (no matter WHAT the scenario) did the wrong thing here by attacking a guy on the side of the street.

            If YOU were in Gerald’s position (had a gun, a girlfriend and five muscle-bound guys coming after the two of you) you would have to be a complete idiot to take a potentially life-threatening beating.

            I have to wonder what would have happened if Gerald hadn’t had a gun. Wonder if Eddie and friends would have called 911 after they beat him up or if they would have ran away like cowards.

            For the record, I’m glad Eddie survived this. I don’t wish him, or any other human, ill will. But no matter what the facts are, he was one of five guys looking to beat up a guy who was obviously trying to get away. Even if Gerald started the altercation and took it to a very high level, he was still at one point backing up trying to get away. And it’s pretty apparent that Eddie and friends just weren’t going to allow that to happen.

          • Paula says:

            “One guy has a gun and shoot’s an unarmed person…and you think that is doing the right thing?”

            In the United States of America, we have the *right* to defend ourselves when someone attacks us. On the other hand we do NOT have the *right* to take a group and attack someone on the street. That is considered assault, and is by the way criminal.

            I do not wish harm to the attacker and am very glad to see he is recovering, however, just because he was shot does not make him the good guy here. He and a group of his friends ATTACKED a single guy with his girlfriend. That man defended himself. He was carrying the gun LEGALLY. He is not a criminal with a gun, he is a law abiding citizen, with a properly permitted gun who was attacked by a group of guys and he DEFENDED himself. How in the world can you call someone an idiot for believing in our constitutional right to bear arms and defend ourselves?

  2. Matt says:

    Interesting comments above, the focus of the article is on E. Donato’s remarkable recovery, that being said, many people do have questions about what actually transpired that evening.

  3. Liz says:

    Really Paula? I think you left a couple words out of that statement of your and its a pretty important one, “I do not wish harm to the attacker and am very glad to see he is recovering, however, just because he was shot six times does not make him the good guy here.” That’s right, Mr. Ung felt the need to shoot six times. You and anyone who believes Mr. Ung was justified in his action is an idiot!

  4. Mark says:

    To Sean and Paula and the rest of you Ung classmates who seem to believe that shooting an unarmed person 6 TIMES is self defense makes me wonder what kind of law they’re teaching at Temple. Ung had a gun police did recover, it was NOT 5 to 1, look at the film. You people who believe Ung shooting DiDonato was in any way justified self defense have to get your head outta your a** because the facts don’t justify what your trying to spin.

  5. Tim says:

    Ung’s life is over. That is the end of it. It doesn’t matter if he goes to jail or not. He will never have a respectable life ever again.

    Ung’s Resume

    – Shot a defenseless person six times.

  6. Renfield says:

    Let’s face it, the article is blatantly biased in DiDonato’s favor. “Gunman” (like “bureaucrat”) is one of many words that technically can be used in a neutral way but in practice have strong negative connotations. Have you ever seen the term “gunman” applied to a police officer who shot a thug? No? Why not? The officer certainly met one definition. Why not call Ung an “armed citizen”? That’s what he was, wasn’t he?

    The author also tells us that Ung was charged with various horrible crimes but says nothing whatsoever about the fact that the incident remains highly controversial. So “details [about the shooting] remain fuzzy” while the poor wonderful lacrosse player victim has little memory of what happened. I’ll bet.

    So let’s sympathize with the injured DiDonato and applaud his recovery, but can we stop making him out to be some kind of hero? He and his buddies may very well have intended to do grievous harm to Ung. Ung may have saved his own life by shooting. I don’t know, and you don’t know.

    Incidentally, these days simply having a doctorate is proof of practically nothing. Is there a greater mark of ignorance and incompetence, for example, than a doctorate in education? Use of “normalcy” instead of “normality” says much about the importance of advanced degrees.

  7. Mark says:

    Renfield says the article is biased in favor of DiDonato…duh, that’s because its ABOUT DIDONATO RECOVERING FROM BEING SHOT, you moron! Its a remarkable story about this kid who by all rights could be dead, but by the grace of God, good luck and a great inner spirit is recovering. You classmates of Ung’s and 2nd amendment wacko’s are trying to make this case something its not! The facts are Ung shot an unarmed DiDonato 6 TIMES!…6 TIMES without even looking to flee or leave the scene. Thats why its attempted murder.

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