Share This Page

Wounded Vandergrift Marine battles back

| Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Vandergrift native Doug Vitale is making strides toward a new normal, close friend Maria Suluva says.

The 25-year-old Vitale was a Marine corporal when he lost both legs and suffered major brain damage from stepping on a homemade mine on Sept. 25, 2011, in Sangin, Afghanistan. Vitale, a 2005 graduate of Kiski Area High School, spent about two months in a coma in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“He's awake now,” said Suluva, who said she's been Vitale's friend his entire life. “He's currently in Tampa, with his wife, Lexi, getting treatment for his brain injury.“

“He recently got two new titanium legs,” she said. “So he has to learn how to walk all over again.”

Suluva said that Vitale can't talk due to his brain injury.

“He's mumbled a couple things and said ‘Mom,'” she said. “We're hoping the therapies he's going through will help him talk again.”

Suluva said Vitale's memory is intact, something she's grateful for.

“I went down to see him recently,” she said. “As soon as I walked in the door, his eyes got really big. He knew exactly who I was.”

Hometown hero

On Friday, the students at Allegheny-Hyde Park Elementary School honored Vitale at their Veterans Day assembly.

Fifth-grade teacher Rebekah Stankowski, the assembly's coordinator, said, “This year, we focused on a hometown hero, Doug Vitale ... since he is a Kiski Area grad.”

The children wrote essays about what a hero means to them. They listened to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam war and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan talk about their service to the country.

The assembly included a video about Vitale, which included footage of him before he suffered his combat injuries.

“I had about 35 veterans as well as the teachers who were in tears watching this video,” Stankowski said.

Another component of the Veterans Day program was the “hugs and kisses” campaign the school conducted during parent-teacher conferences.

The campaign's goal was to raise money to help Vitale.

Parents, teachers and students made donations. In return, they received Hershey's candy hugs and kisses to give each other with messages.

Stankowski said the effort raised about $2,000 for Vitale, which will be delivered to him along with a sign made for the assembly. The sign reads “Doug Vitale is our hero” and is signed by the students and faculty at the school.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.