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‘I would wake up . . . feeling like I’m going to die’: David Ortiz speaks after shooting

In an interview with The Boston Globe, David Ortiz discussed life after he was shot June 9 in Santo Domingo.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It was painless at first, the bullet that ripped through David Ortiz’s torso and lodged in his friend’s leg.

“I felt a burning sensation,’’ Ortiz told the Globe in his first public comments to an English language publication since he was shot June 9 in his native Dominican Republic. “I felt weird, like not myself, as I went down.’’

The former Red Sox great had been sipping Scotch with seven or eight friends at a familiar hangout, the trendy Dial Bar and Lounge in Santo Domingo, and was chatting with a singer known as Secreto when a gunman rushed his front row table at the bar’s outdoor patio and fired a single bullet from close range into his back.


It was a moment, Ortiz said, that has forever changed his life.

In a wide-ranging interview at Fenway Park, Ortiz reflected on the crime and investigation, the lifesaving Samaritan who rushed him to the hospital, his three surgeries and potentially deadly infection, and how differently he views the world now.

“People need to understand, this isn’t a movie where you get shot in the street and you’re back two minutes later,’’ Ortiz said. “No, I got shot and almost died. I only have one life to live. I can’t just go to the pharmacy and buy another one.’’

“I only have one life to live. I can’t just go to the pharmacy and buy another one,” Ortiz said.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

As a grainy videotape of the shooting shows, Ortiz slumped to the bar’s wooden floor within seconds of the gunshot. It was about 9:20 p.m., more than two hours after he had arrived there to meet Jhoel Lopez, a Dominican television host, and a longtime friend, Sixto David Fernandez, who operates a car paint shop.

At the sound of the shot, patrons scattered, including Ortiz’s companions — even the wounded Lopez. Ortiz was left alone, writhing on the floor, critically injured.

“Then this angel comes out of nowhere,’’ he recalled.


The angel, a Dial Bar patron named Eliezer Salvador, helped Ortiz into the back seat of his Rolls-Royce SUV. The vehicle was boxed in by other parked cars, so Salvador rammed his way out of the space, sending Ortiz rocking back and forth in his seat.

They sped toward a public hospital, only to change course when Ortiz asked to be taken to a private clinic he had frequented. He remained upright and conscious as Salvador, who once had been shot in the stomach himself, weaved at a harrowing pace through traffic.

“He knew how to react,’’ Ortiz said. “He kept talking to me to make sure I stayed awake.’’

RELATED: Ortiz hires former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis to investigate shooting

The 43-year-old retired slugger remembers being alert enough to know he had been shot, but he understood little else about his wound or condition.

“I didn’t want to look at it, to be honest,’’ he said. “I don’t even remember how much I bled.’’

He does recall, however, when the pain set in: in the half hour it took the clinic staff to evaluate and prepare him for the operating room, and then wait for the surgeons to arrive.

As he was rolled into surgery, Ortiz said, he told the staff, “Please don’t let me die. I have four children. I want to be with them.’’

Ortiz said he pleaded with doctors and nurses at the hospital: “Please don’t let me die. I have four cbhildren. I want to be with them.”Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Doctors operated on his badly damaged intestines and liver, and removed his gallbladder. By morning, the Red Sox had arranged to transport him to Massachusetts General Hospital.


Before he left, Dominican Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez questioned him at his bedside about the shooting. This would be his only interview with a law enforcement official about the ambush, according to Ortiz spokesman, Joe Baerlein.

“Everything happened so fast that it felt like it didn’t happen,’’ Ortiz said of the interview. “But it really did.’’

While Ortiz remembers speaking with Rodriguez, he recalls little else about the day after the shooting except asking his father, Leo, who accompanied him on the flight to Boston, to cover his feet when they grew cold.

“The next thing I knew I was being wheeled into surgery again’’ at Mass. General, he said.

Dr. David King, a renowned trauma surgeon, told Ortiz he needed to operate to assess the damage and the quality of the first surgery.

“They did a hell of a job, all good,’’ Ortiz quoted King as saying afterward about the Dominican surgical team.

But his recovery was arduously slow. Then, three weeks after the second surgery, Ortiz encountered another life-threatening crisis: an acute bacterial infection that gravely compromised his digestive system. His fever ran so high that he shook with chills, as he had as a child when he suffered hypothermia.

RELATED: In a healthy sign, Ortiz delivers first pitch at Fenway

The doctors and nurses, for all their reassurances, did not mask the severity of his condition.

“It was very dangerous,’’ Ortiz said. “I got to the point that I started losing hope.’’


Ortiz grew more despondent when he learned he urgently needed another surgery. He remembered seeing fear on the faces of his loved ones.

“Everybody was like, ‘Oh [expletive],’ ’’ he said.

In his bleakest days after the surgery, Ortiz fought desperation, even in his sleep. Over seven weeks, he could swallow nothing but melted ice chips — except for a small cup of Jell-O and some fruit that he threw up.

Ortiz drew his only nourishment through tubes and intravenous lines. His mouth was so parched that it ached.

“I had nightmares all the time about being in the desert, looking for water,’’ he said. “I would wake up with my mouth dry and feeling like I’m going to die.’’

“I got to the point that I started losing hope,” Ortiz said of the days after the shooting.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff/file

Ortiz drew a measure of hope when the medical team would tell him he would survive. But he began to prepare for the possibility that he would be permanently debilitated, that he would never again be Big Papi, the robust and charismatic personality whose spirit had long lifted those around him.

“I felt that if I didn’t die, then I would never be the same again,’’ he said. “I went through hell with that.’’

One day, Ortiz awoke from a nightmare and saw his sister, Albania, seated by his bed, her Bible open on her lap. He had tubes in his nose and arm. He had lost 40 pounds.

“She was arguing with God, asking for help,’’ he said. “It was upsetting. It hit me hard.’’


Looking back, however, Ortiz sees that moment as his turning point. It would take several more days for him to eat and drink again, and to speak without struggling to his wife, Tiffany, and family.

“But after that day, everything was different,’’ Ortiz said. “I started getting better.’’

On July 22, nearly seven weeks after he was gunned down, he held down food for the first time: a cup of soup. The fever was gone. The feeding tube had been removed.

“That was a big, big deal,’’ he said.

Ortiz was no stranger to Mass. General. Through his charity, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, he has given millions to Mass. General and other medical facilities in the United States and the Dominican Republic to help critically ill children.

His stay at the hospital was long and grueling but also heartening. “They made me feel special there,” he said, “but when I noticed that they treated everybody like they treated me, that made me even happier.’’

RELATED: Yankees players Gary Sanchez and Edwin Encarnacion visit Ortiz

Nearly a month after his third surgery, Ortiz returned to his home outside Boston, beginning the next phase of his recovery. Walking, eating, sleeping in his own bed, spending time with friends: It all felt renewing.

The Yankees came to visit: CC Sabathia, Edwin Encarnacion, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez. The Phillies, too: Jean Segura, Maikel Franco. Also, the Red Sox, past and current, if not in person then by phone.

But nothing has fully distracted him from the mystery of why that stranger emerged from the shadows in Santo Domingo that night with malice and a firearm. To date, nothing about the conflicting findings of Dominican law enforcement has made sense to him, Ortiz said.

“You gotta pay a lot more than that to get me killed,” Ortiz said of the alleged $7,800 bounty put on his head. “I ain’t that cheap.’’Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

First, the authorities announced that an unspecified person with an undisclosed motive had placed a $7,800 bounty on Ortiz’s head. Six suspects were arrested, and Ortiz said he knew none of them or why anyone would want to harm him.

“I don’t know why I was involved in something like this because I’m not the type of person who looks for trouble or causes trouble. All I worry about is trying to help people, about trying to do the right thing,” Ortiz said.

What’s more, he joked: “You gotta pay a lot more than that to get me killed. I ain’t that cheap.’’

Nearly three weeks later came another announcement. Eight more suspects had been arrested — Ortiz said he knew none of those, either — and police concluded that the actual intended target had been his friend, Fernandez, who sat near him that night.

The bounty on Fernandez was closer to $30,000, authorities said, and his cousin, an alleged drug dealer, had wanted him killed because he allegedly had spoken to police about him more than eight years earlier.

This also made no sense to Ortiz. Now, there are questions about whether Cesar Peralta, a Dominican drug kingpin known as “The Abuser,’’ or his cartel may have been involved in the shooting, which to Ortiz also defies logic.

Ortiz also dismissed tabloid rumors that have emanated from social media in the Dominican Republic. One suggested a car he was driving had been chased and forced off the road by someone trying to harm him before the shooting.

“If that ever happened to me, the first person I would call would be the president of the Dominican Republic,’’ Ortiz said. “I know he would do something about it. That’s how close we are.’’

Last month, Ortiz hired former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis to investigate the shooting. Baerlein said Davis has yet to uncover any significant new evidence.

“I want to find out who did this,’’ Ortiz said. “I’m not going to sit around and chill if there’s somebody out there who wants to kill me.’’

Ortiz smiled during Friday’s interview.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Ortiz now looks much like his old larger-than-life self, if a little more svelte. He has gained some weight back and seems to move freely, saying he recently logged a 5-mile walk. But the shooting has made Ortiz adjust his lifestyle; sadly, he said, he finds himself withdrawing a bit.

“I like to embrace people, make them feel comfortable around me,’’ Ortiz said. “I was always very accessible, but I think I’m going to cut down on that a little now.

“One lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t be naive,’’ he said. “There are a lot of things going on now that you have to be aware of. I need to pay attention and be more careful.’’

Ortiz expressed thanks to Red Sox Nation and other supporters, and said through his spokesman that he was touched by how generous and kind people have been to him and his family. He is also particularly grateful to John W. Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, who facilitated his emergency medical flight to Boston. Henry is the principal owner of the Sox and the owner and publisher of the Globe. Pizzuti Henry is the Globe’s managing director.

The Henrys recently flew David and Tiffany Ortiz to southern France, where they vacationed on the couple’s yacht, toured a vineyard, and sampled a bottle of wine so extravagant that Ortiz jokingly speculated it was drawn from “the fountain of youth.’’

When they returned, Ortiz made his first big public appearance, tossing a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park and soaking in the affection.

He plans to leave soon for Los Angeles to resume his role as a Fox Sports analyst for the major league baseball playoffs in October. Then comes a November trip to Florida for his annual charity golf tournament. One day, he said, he will return to the Dominican Republic, likely with security.

By Thanksgiving, Ortiz said, he expects to be fully recovered, at least physically. He knows other scars will linger.

Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.