ORLANDO, Fla. — At first, getting shot by an assault rifle in an Orange Blossom Trail motel room seemed like a bad thing.
Now, Dan D’Amato says it likely saved his life. That’s because, were it not for the bullet wound, doctors may not have found the massive tumor that was festering in his lung.
D’Amato, 45, says he views the shooting as a catalyst to change his life by shedding bad habits and improving his health.
However, the gunman who opened fire at the Knights Inn last month remains at large, and D’Amato fears the next victim won’t be so lucky.
D’Amato doesn’t deny why he went to the Knights Inn: He was there to meet a pair of prostitutes at what he described as a “24-hour party” in a motel room, with other people popping in an out over the course of the evening for sex and possibly drug use.
He was sitting on the floor of the room just before 4 a.m., D’Amato says, when gunfire erupted and he dove for cover behind a bed.
“It was like all hell broke loose in that room,” D’Amato recalls. “All I know is it was like the Wild West in there. Pure chaos.”
Surveillance video of the incident shows D’Amato’s assailant, a man with what appears to be an AK-47 standing outside the room and firing numerous rounds into the walls and windows. It’s not clear who was targeted in the shooting.
One of those bullets struck D’Amato just above his buttocks. After the shelling stopped, he staggered to the motel’s front desk to await the authorities.
The bullet that hit D’Amato traveled through his body, exiting near his hip. He says doctors told him the same shot centimeters to the right or left could have been devastating or potentially fatal.
He was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center. There, D’Amato was stunned when doctors found what appeared to be a pair of growths in the upper lobe of his right lung.
One was a tumor – described by a surgeon in his report as a “giant mass” weighing between 3 and 4 pounds, according to hospital officials.
Although the growth wasn’t cancerous, D’Amato’s doctors have attributed a host of respiratory ailments to it, including a hacking cough, pneumonia and a growing buildup of fluid in his lungs.
“(The surgeon) said, ‘Dude, getting shot saved your life,” says D’Amato, who praised his surgeon and ORMC doctors and staff for providing excellent care. He lost half of one of his lungs in the surgery.
The gunman fled the shooting in a dark red, late-90s Nissan Maxima with tinted windows, according to Central Florida Crimeline. Tips can be reported to Crimeline at 1-800-423-8477.
The suspect is described as a man between the ages of 20 and 25, about 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-9 and weighing about 150 pounds.
D’Amato, who has a history of theft and trespassing arrests and admits he’s “no angel,” says he’s worried that his case _ because of who he is, where he was and what he was doing when he was shot _ isn’t getting enough attention from authorities or the public.
A woman who answered the phone at Knights Inn immediately declined comment when asked about the shooting by a reporter.
D’Amato is working to get help for his medical bills, which have ballooned to tens of thousands of dollars. But he says the shooting has forced him to reflect on how he wound up bleeding on the floor of an OBT motel.
“I put myself in a position to die surrounded by people I didn’t know,” he said. “The fact that I almost died alone was a wake-up call for me.”