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‘I love life and the world even more’: Hit-and-run, gunshot victims tell of survival, recovery, hope

“I smell the air, and it just feels different,” said one hit-and-run survivor.

Ligia Ramirez-Maldonado, left, Tala Ayyad, and Nasair Boston-Epps at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for a trauma survivors event.
Ligia Ramirez-Maldonado, left, Tala Ayyad, and Nasair Boston-Epps at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for a trauma survivors event.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Tala Ayyad was walking across Arch Street near Third in Old City last October when a motorist driving the wrong way rammed into her. Her body flew up, her head hit the windshield, and after the driver allegedly accelerated, she repeatedly flipped in the air before landing.

Seven months later, the 33-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative recalled Wednesday how she nearly lost her life and found a road to recovery. After being treated at Hahnemann University Hospital, she was transferred to Magee Rehabilitation.

“I remember at Magee, when they made me step out, I smell the air, and it just feels different,” she said. “I looked at the colors around the room, and they feel different. And water tastes more fresh. The little things I used to ignore in the past, I notice differently. And my perspective in life has changed, and I love life and the world even more.”

Ayyad was one of three trauma victims who spoke at a Hahnemann event Wednesday in recognition of National Trauma Survivors Day. Ligia Ramirez-Maldonado, 62, who was injured by a hit-and-run driver in December, and Nasair Boston-Epps, 18, struck in the abdomen by a bullet while waiting at a North Philadelphia bus stop in February 2018, also smiled on this day — months after they were severely injured.

Wearing a blue helmet to protect her head (part of her skull had to be removed because of brain inflammation, then an infection), Ayyad recalled being induced into a coma at Hahnemann for 12 days, her parents coming up from South Carolina, and the hospital’s trauma staff giving her and her family hope.

The driver accused of hitting her and then fleeing, James Lambadarios, faces a July 15 trial on charges of leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence, aggravated assault, and related offenses. Lambadarios, 36, currently in custody, is being represented by the Defender Association of Philadelphia. A spokesperson said Wednesday that the office would not comment.

Boston-Epps, a senior at Philadelphia Military Academy in North Philadelphia, said he’s looking forward to graduation. “Tomorrow’s my prom,” he said. “I would not be here without Hahnemann Hospital.” He thanked trauma surgeon Alberto Nuñez.

After speaking to the packed room of dozens of people, mostly hospital staff, he told The Inquirer that he’s taking his sister Renae Tillman, 20, to prom.

He recalled waiting at a bus stop on Feb. 2, 2018, to head to his job at a McDonald’s when he was shot. Boston-Epps was the captain of the Nomads, a rugby team of Philadelphia public high schoolers.

A police spokesperson said Wednesday that no one has been arrested in the shooting at 22nd and Dauphin Streets.

Ramirez-Maldonado’s hit-and-run driver has not been arrested, she said. She had been crossing Aramingo Avenue near Cambria Street in Port Richmond on Dec. 4 when an SUV driver struck her, then fled. Marcin Jankowski, Hahnemann’s trauma medical director, said Ramirez-Maldonado suffered severe spinal cord and other injuries and several broken bones.

“I’m very, very, very, very, very happy I’m here for my daughters,” Ramirez-Maldonado said, standing with the two girls, Keisy Morales, 17, and Siraily Rivera, 9.

“Yes, I’m a stronger woman,” she said.

“Yes, a superwoman,” Siraily chimed in.