Posted on Nov 01, 2013
Remarkably composed for someone who has been through such a traumatic ordeal— while getting totally winded by an emotional wrecking ball — a lighter, somewhat withered Jason Hotchkin stood uncomfortably Thursday morning at Sports City Harrisburg and addressed those gathered at the Linglestown Road facility.
While the 35-year-old talked openly about his on-going recovery and rehabilitation from the gunshot wounds that have forced the former Harrisburg Heat/City Islanders player to rebuild his once-durable 6-0, 190-pound frame one pound and one muscle at a time, the start of Hotchkin's brief message summed things up concisely.
"Just really want to thank everyone who's been involved in my speedy recovery," said Hotchkin, who played last season for the indoor Heat and spent two seasons (2010-2011) with the outdoor City Islanders. "It's been a long road, but there's so many of you who have sacrificed your own resources for my welfare and for my benefit — and for that I'm rather grateful and in debt to you all.
"Just want to say thank you to the soccer community," Hotchkin continued. "There's been an unbelievable response, an unexpected response in most cases, but really I'm humbled by the response from everyone and just really from the bottom of my heart I say thank you to everyone involved in my recovery."
Critically injured during an early-morning shooting in downtown West Chester on Aug. 18 that left him with bullet wounds in his spine, upper right leg and right arm, Hotchkin was rushed to suburban Philadelphia's Paoli Hospital. After undergoing emergency surgery, he was admitted to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit.
Once his condition gradually improved, Hotchkin was moved to a Harrisburg-area facility to continue his rehabilitation. Eventually, and with the help of crutches, he was discharged from the hospital on Sept. 2 and finally able to return home.
New Harrisburg Heat owner John Wilsbach addresses the gathering at Sports City Harrisburg as former player Jason Hotchkin and Harrisburg attorney Scott Cooper sit nearby. Michael Bullock, PennLive.comDespite being some 25 pounds lighter.
Despite walking with a noticeable limp since the bullet that intruded his upper right leg remains lodged in his femur. Nerve damage in his right foot and right leg, caused by the same bullet and slow to respond, serves as another constant reminder.
So does the pain that accompanies even the slightest movement.
Yet, despite those obvious physical changes and limitations, Hotchkin's emotional outlook is remarkably upbeat as he attempts to piece things back together.
"Recovery's going all right," Hotchkin admitted. "Finally off of crutches. And being off of crutches most of the time, it's difficult to walk. It's coming along. I'm getting stronger every day. So there's been a lot of positives from my overall recovery.
"No major setbacks."
His playing career? Well, that's a different situation.
Yet despite the unlikely possibility that he could play again at the professional level — he even injected some humor into the situation — Hotchkin's optimistic.
"That's up in the air," Hotchkin candidly revealed. "My doctor's telling me it's going to be 18 months for my nerves to heal. Right now, I have a lot of nerve damage in my right leg. Never really used my right leg [all that much], but it's not ruled out.
"I would like to see myself healthy and back on the field, but I'm prepared for whatever."
Like everyone else, he's on a day-to-day basis.
Jason Hotchkin, is hopeful he can resume his playing career following a lengthy recovery/rehab. Hotchkin was shot on Aug. 18 in West Chester. Patriot-News file"Realistically, I can't set my expectations too high because nerves are a funny thing and they do what they want," Hotchkin said. "In a perfect story, I would love to see myself get fit and get back on the field and be ready for maybe next season.
"I'm older now so I don't know if that's even a possibility — if I was healthy. Realistically, that would be a great story for myself. That would prove a lot to myself to be able to do that. But I have to be prepared for what these nerves do in my foot and in my leg. Just have to be ready for that."
Hotchkin also is ready to return to a normal existence — if that's at all possible — and resume his coaching career with suburban Harrisburg's Capital Area Soccer Association. He's done a little bit already, but he's still limited.
Ironically, Hotchkin was coaching a team from another club at a tournament in nearby Downingtown the weekend his life changed immeasurably.
"The importance of getting back to some sort of normalcy is life goes on," said Hotchkin, who served as the Heat's captain last season. "It goes on. There's so many people that are worse off than me and they're getting back to their daily routines.
"It's something I've had to look at, look at myself in the mirror and say, 'It's time to get going and it's time to get moving."
Attorney Scott Cooper of Schmidt Kramer's Harrisburg office addresses the gathering at Sports City Harrisburg Thursday morning as his client, former Harrisburg Heat/City Islanders player Jason Hotchkin, sits nearby. Michael Bullock, PennLive.comWhile new owner John Wilsbach said the Heat plans to hold a silent auction — Hotchkin's game-worn jerseys from last season will be up for bid — to raise funds to help defray some of the $300,000 or so in medical expenses that Hotchkin's ordeal generated.
Hotchkin was without medical insurance at the time of the shooting, but attorney Scott Cooper of Schmidt Kramer's Harrisburg office said they are working on finding remedies to help resolve his sizable burden.
The City Islanders also held several fundraisers to help offset Hotchkin's rapidly mounting medical costs. Other groups also have pitched in to aid Hotchkin's cause.
"One of the things that is clear, at least as far as my understanding is, is it was a totally unprovoked attack," Cooper said. "Jason doesn't remember a lot about it, but he remembers enough to know that he didn't ask for this. He's a victim and I think the outpouring of support shows how much everyone cares about him.
"We're just hoping that the [Chester County] District Attorney and the Commonwealth, when they do this prosecution, will keep that in mind when this all gets back to them."
A civil action against 25-year-old Curtis Zebley, the Kennett Square resident who was arrested and charged with multiple offenses following the Aug. 18 incident, also is a possibility pending the outcome of Zebley's criminal proceedings.
According to court records, Zebley remains confined to Chester County Prison on nearly $250,000 bail. Zebley, who was arrested at the scene by a West Chester police officer who was nearby at the time of the shooting, is charged with attempted first-degree murder, four counts of aggravated assault, four counts of simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and possession of a weapon.
Zebley will be arraigned on Nov. 7.
Former City Islanders player Moffat Oduor also was injured during the incident, but was treated for his injuries and released. Oduor, a close friend of Hotchkin's, was coaching at the same Downingtown tournament.
"There's so many things a person can take away from this," Hotchkin said. "I've really got to say it's the overall love and the sense of community that this place has. The Heat family. So many people involved with the City Islanders. CASA has been unbelievable in helping me in my recovery and helping me get my things organized.
"It's been a difficult process for myself, but that whole community's just stepped up and really just been there for me — through anything. Financially. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Everything. They've just gone to bat for me. They've really been my saving grace as far as my recovery is concerned."
And Hotchkin's recovery is far from ordinary.
"Those injuries are catastrophic in most cases," said Hotchkin, who believes his high fitness level at the time of the shooting has been a big plus throughout his recovery. "Most people don't walk away from those sort of injuries. I'm a firm believer that God was watching out for me. I'm thankful for that.
"To be able to walk, talk and be out of bed is a miracle at this point."
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