Inspiring Mt. Pleasant senior back on diamond after cancer, surgery

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Saturday, March 16, 2019 | 7:21 PM


Dom Giallonardo is not even.

His legs are unbalanced because he does not have a right hip and is missing half of his pelvis.

He had a cancerous tumor removed from his hip in 2015 and endured countless hours of chemotherapy. But he beat the disease known at Ewing’s sarcoma and came back to play basketball.

Not even … imaginable.

The cancer, however, came back.

Not even … fair.

But he rallied again. After doctors told him his baseball playing days might be over, he beat it again. As if one amazing revival wasn’t enough, Giallonardo has completed another.

The Comeback Kid is back on the field this season with the Mt. Pleasant varsity team.

Not even … kidding.

“I knew I wanted to play baseball again,” said Giallonardo, an infielder and pitcher. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I would be able to.”

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound senior aimed to defy the doctors who told him he couldn’t have the same life he had before a hemipelvectomy took his hip and reduced his pelvis, before the cancer took his energy and threatened to take away his well being.

He shook it all off like he was telling his catcher he didn’t like a pitch sign. Then he did it a second time with even more resolve.

The cancer came back three days after his junior basketball season ended. While he did not need surgery the second time because the cancer was lodged in a tight spot in his spine and not attached to the bone, he went through two more months of chemo and 30 days of radiation treatments.

The tumor disappeared.

Last Thursday, the results came back NED: No Evidence of Disease.

He cannot be declared in remission until five years have passed with clean scans.

”He’s pretty incredible,” his father said. “People ask us, ‘How’d he do it?’ He loves sports. It makes him feel normal again. He’s not the sick kid when he’s out there with his friends.”

Giallonardo pitched a few innings in a scrimmage earlier this week, played some third base and even stepped in to hit. He runs with a noticeable limp because his right leg is shorter than the left, but nobody will question the effort in his strides.

“With everything he’s been through, it’s just incredible,” Mt. Pleasant baseball coach Chris Firmstone said. “Everyone believed in him and wanted to see him come back. He is so excited to be back.”

With no right hip, he has a four-to-five-inch difference in the reach of his legs. When he pitches, he pushes off on the “shorter” leg.

“He normally wears that raised-up shoe,” Firmstone said. “But they don’t make baseball spikes like that, so he has normal cleats. It doesn’t seem to bother him, though.”

Carmen Giallonardo, Dom’s father, said there is talk of Dom wearing rubberized cleats so the sole can be thickened to even his legs. They are trying to figure out a way to build up his baseball shoes the way his basketball shoes were structured.

Giallonardo wears No. 2, almost as if to signify how many times he has throttled cancer.

He has acknowledged another amazing comeback but is back to business. Now, he is focused on regaining his playing form.

“It’s been four years since I picked up a bat and started swinging again,” Giallonardo said. “I had to get down the routine again, and I had to find another way to balance my weight … and be able to follow through with my swing. I am getting it down now.”

Vikings senior pitcher and outfielder Jared Weaver said Giallonardo’s presence has uplifted the Vikings and added perspective.

“Dom and I have been best friends for a long time,” Wagner said. “I mean, you look out there and see him playing again, it doesn’t make losing a baseball game seem so bad. He is out there living his best life.”

Wagner and his father helped form fundraisers for Giallonardo, including “Dingers for Dom.”

Giallonardo will receive the John Challis Courage Award at the WPIAL Hall of Fame induction ceremony June 1. Challis, a former Freedom athlete, died of cancer in 2008 but left a lasting impact as he endured while battling the illness.

“It’s scary at first and also frustrating because you know you want to try and get back out to the things that you love to do,” Giallonardo said. “I am just happy to be back out here and be with my teammates.”

Giallonardo used to play three sports (baseball, basketball, football), but now he is down to just one. He did not play basketball this past season after making his first miraculous comeback and earning a spot in the Vikings’ starting lineup two seasons ago.

He did not play a sport as a freshman and sophomore because of the chemo and rehab — he essentially had to relearn how to walk in physical therapy.

Giallonardo first felt pain in his back when he was in eighth grade. As the pain worsened and concern grew, his family sought medical attention. Chemo began right away, and he had a series of blood transfusions before the surgery.

He said he used to get upset. But now, he goes about his business with a 2-0 record against his most daunting competition.

“I can handle my own,” he said. “It’s a little tougher getting around like a normal person because I am not completely even without my specialized shoe. I can still play with everybody. I can keep up with them.”

Giallonardo said he will attend Pitt-Greensburg for two years before transferring to the main campus to complete a degree in occupational therapy, a field which, through all the pain and suffering he endured, piqued his interest.

“People say I am inspiring to them and stuff like that,” he said. “But I am just trying to go day by day and do what I love to do: play sports. If people think that is inspiring, that is amazing to me.”

Not even close.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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