Durante survives severe illness, then takes Shelton alderman seat

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Newly elected 4th Ward Alderman Lorenzo Durante with his family. The Shelton man overcame a nearly fatal illness, then only weeks later was elected to the Board of Aldermen.

Newly elected 4th Ward Alderman Lorenzo Durante with his family. The Shelton man overcame a nearly fatal illness, then only weeks later was elected to the Board of Aldermen.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — Lorenzo Durante capturing a 4th Ward alderman seat is awe-inspiring considering he spent much of the campaign season fighting for his life.

Durante had committed to run on the Republican ticket for the seat being vacated by longtime and popular alderman Noreen McGorty before leaving on a family vacation to Aruba in early July.

He returned on July 10 and five days later was at Griffin Health, with intense stomach pains, his body swollen, high fevers, his lungs beginning to collapse and his kidneys failing. He admits remembering little because soon after his arrival at Griffin, he was placed in a medically induced coma.

“Next thing I knew I woke up in (Yale New Haven Hospital),” Durante said. “I was told doctors told my wife and my parents I had only a 40 percent chance to make it.”

Durante was diagnosed with a severe case of pancreatitis. When he finally awoke a month later, he was unable to move or speak — he had to acknowledge questions from medical professionals with a “thumbs up or a thumbs down” for the next two weeks.

Lorenzo’s wife, Mandi, called the summer incredibly difficult for her and the couple’s children. But she said life was made easier thanks to the support of family and friends.

“After what seemed like forever ... almost two months ... I could barely believe it when Lorenzo started to open his eyes and respond,” she recalled. “I was beyond astonished when I walked into his room and saw him standing. After all his body had been through, I couldn’t believe he could stand.

“It felt like we had finally woken up from a long nightmare,” she added.

Less than a week after they moved him off the ICU the doctors went from saying he was going to have to be in a long-term care rehab facility to saying he was coming home.

“It was so surreal,” she said. “I was afraid to tell my kids that daddy was coming home because I didn’t believe it myself. Since he has come home it has been another adjustment for us with the kids back to school and activities.”

His body fought pancreatitis and won, as he worked to regain his speech and movement, yet he still to this day battles bouts of fatigue as his body regains its full strength. Durante left the hospital Sept. 8, and for the 42-year-old, he says “simple things to me are now accomplishments.”

Durante grew up instilled with a strong work ethic, something that came from his parents, longtime owners of Durante’s Pasta in West Haven. After time with the family business and other sales positions at other companies, he started his own business — LaSala Catering Hall in Derby, which he managed for seven years.

He is now district sales manager for Wisconsin-based Grande Cheese Company. His only governmental experience coming as a parks and recreation commissioner for the past six years.

“I’m always planning ahead … and when I choose to do something, I put everything I have into it,” Durante said. “That’s why when I was in the hospital, I went to (the Republican leadership) and told them, I was not sure I could do what was expected during a campaign because of (my illness).”

But Republican leadership never wavered in their support for Durante — telling him to work on getting better, his GOP teammates would handle the rest.

“Despite being out of commission for a while, Lorenzo didn’t need much help,” Shelton state Rep. Jason Perillo said. “The minute he was well enough, he was on the phone talking to voters. He’s a great guy who will be a dedicated alderman.”

“Our concerns were that he make a full recovery for his own sake and that of his wife, children, parents, brother and his extended family,” Republican Town Committee Chair Anthony Simonetti said. “We respect his need for privacy as he recovered while providing our support along with prayers and best wishes for his complete recovery.

“We are so very pleased he is well and at his own pace rejoined the campaign,” Simonetti added. “He is a very dedicated public servant whose business experience will be very much appreciated and required to be part of the fiscal authority watching over the taxes of the city of Shelton as a 4th Ward alderman.”

Since returning home Durante has been to most of the couple’s sons’ soccer games, is helping make dinner and reinserting himself into a ‘normal’ routine.

“He has always been a person that when he sets his mind to something, he makes it happen so was I surprised when he jumped into making calls to our neighbors and stood outside on Election Day? No. That’s who he is,” Mandi said.

“I know this whole experience has changed Lorenzo, our kids and I and made us realize that there is so much good we can do to give back for all the love and support that has been given to us,” she added. “I think being alderman gives Lorenzo a way to do this.”

Durante said he put his stamina to the test on Election Day, standing outside greeting voters from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. In the end, he earned enough votes to join incumbent Republican Bernie Simons as representatives of the 4th Ward.

“I am so humbled … I had to pinch myself,” Durante said after learning the results about 9 p.m. on Election Day. “We love Shelton … we have kids in the (school) system and want to give back. I hoped one day I would have that opportunity; I just did not think it would happen so soon. It was quite a roller coaster ride.”