Drew DiDonato

Drew DiDonato, a freshman majoring in psychology, succumbed to his injuries Wednesday morning. Family and friends used the hashtag "DrewStrong" to show support for Drew's recovery. 

An Iowa State student died Wednesday after suffering severe brain injuries from a skateboarding accident that occurred on campus Nov. 5.

Drew DiDonato, a freshman majoring in psychology, was skating with a group of friends when the accident occurred. 

Gabe Hoen, a sophomore in agricultural engineering, was with Drew the night of the accident. 

“One of our guys got a new board, and we were all running through and testing it. He experienced something called Death Wobble,” Hoen said. “What happens is the board starts to go back and forth underneath you, and you can’t control it. He tried to step off to save himself, and he fell backward.”

Drew’s mother, Jamie Campbell, said it was a “freak” accident. He had his helmet sitting right next to him, but he was not wearing it when he fell. 

Campbell had not seen her son since dropping him off at college in August. When she woke up at 3 a.m. the morning of Nov. 6 to a missed call and voicemail, she knew it was about Drew. Campbell returned the call, and a doctor informed her that Drew was in the hospital with a skull fracture and brain bleed.

The first few days following the accident were critical. When Drew seemed to be improving, his mother remained hopeful for his recovery. 

Drew remained under sedation during his treatment. His doctors planned to wake him up Friday to see whether he was responsive. However, a CT scan that morning revealed complications. That afternoon, as she waited for more updates on his condition, Campbell took a nap at the hospital cuddling with Drew's teddy bear.

Campbell posted daily updates on CaringBridge, a webpage created to keep family and friends updated about his condition. On Saturday, Campbell wrote, “Today I so want to give him a big hug, hear his voice, see his smile, listen to his amazing quick wit, even hear him swear which he does from time to time.” 

On Sunday, Drew’s family knew they had to let him go. Drew had elected to be an organ donor, and on Wednesday morning, the hospital held an honor walk for him. Doctors and nurses lined the halls to honor his donation before taking him off life support. 

Drew was a music lover, and his family asked if they could play music for him as he passed. The doctors agreed. They placed his favorite headphones on his ears, and carefully selected “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles as the song to play while he passed. 

His mother was the first to say her goodbyes. As she was leaving, she noticed she had accidentally hit a button, and another song had begun to play. She looked down at the phone and saw the album cover for Drew’s favorite album,“The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. Drew had the design from the cover tattooed on his right shoulder.

Campbell noticed the song playing was “Brain Damage,” and the entire family started laughing. 

“I went out in front of him, and I talked to him like I would have talked to him normally, and I’m like ‘Drew Patrick! You never cease to amaze me. Seriously, this is what you’re going to send me to tell me that you’re here?’” Campbell laughed. 

She was grateful to know that Drew was there with them, and it reminded her of his amazing sense of humor. 

“My son is just wittier than shit and funny and quick and hilarious,” Campbell said. “He wanted to make his mom laugh one more time.”

Campbell remained strong despite the stress and heartache of Drew’s accident. Hundreds of family, friends and even strangers had followed along the journey with her. Many mothers of Iowa State students posted replies to her updates, expressing their empathy. 

“Your story could have happened to any of us parents—that’s what makes this ‘hit home’ so hard,” wrote Shani Ingstad, an Iowa State mother. “The ISU families will continue to be here for you.” 

Many friends and family members posted messages and memories of Drew, supporting his recovery and offering condolences on his passing.

“I cannot describe the blessing he was to me,” wrote Rebecca Linn, a freshman majoring in pre-veterinary medicine who met Drew this year. “His personality was warm and inviting, making me feel as if I had known him forever. I will treasure the little time I had with him.”

Sydney Kelty, a senior majoring in elementary education and president of the Iowa State Alliance for Disability Awareness, also posted a message on the website.

“Drew is a new member of our club this year, and he has amazed us with his desire to bring awareness to the disability community. He has jumped at every opportunity to help with our mission,” Kelty wrote. “Not only has he been an amazing advocate, he has been a friend to everyone.”

Drew was on the autism spectrum, and he joined the Alliance for Disability Awareness when he came to college. He was proud of his identity, and he shared it on social media earlier this year.

“Over the past few months, I have really come to love and accept myself for all of my differences and embrace my true identity. With all that being said, I would like to finally tell you all that I am #actuallyautistic and proud,” Drew wrote in an Instagram post in May. “Being autistic certainly makes me different, but it doesn’t make me any less human.” 

Drew’s family and friends remember him as witty, intellectual and compassionate. He was outgoing, and made friends everywhere he went. 

Avery TeSelle, a freshman majoring in pre-architecture and one of Drew’s closest friends at Iowa State, said he was funny and quick-witted, with a dark sense of humor.

“We joked about literally everything,” TeSelle said. 

TeSelle and Drew met in April after he reached out to TeSelle on a Class of 2025 social media page. 

“He was like, ‘Hey, you look really cool. We should talk more and be friends,’” TeSelle recalled. 

Drew added TeSelle to a group chat for neurodivergent people, and they became fast friends. 

“Starting September 2, we had a whole streak where he came over to my dorm every single day, and he would be there from like 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” TeSelle said. “I spent a lot of time with him.” 

Campbell described Drew as calm and mature.

“All of his teachers always called him an old soul,” Campbell said. 

He was president of the engineering club at his high school and was very successful on the robotics team. Campbell said Drew had been a “STEM kid” his entire life.

“In high school, he tutored over 200 kids in math for free every year,” Campbell said. “He loved helping people.”

Drew was highly intelligent, and he was already a junior by credit when he came to Iowa State.

“He’s crazy smart,” TeSelle said. “Too smart for his own good.” 

Drew’s hometown is Milwaukee. Campbell said he was accepted into multiple colleges, including MIT and Stanford, before ultimately choosing Iowa State. 

“He fell in love with Iowa State. He was a double engineering and physics major going into college,” Campbell said. 

However, Drew recently switched his major to psychology, deciding that he wanted to pursue a career in neuroscience. 

“Ironically, about six weeks ago, he called me and said he was changing his major to neuroscience,” Campbell said. “I am someone that believes that things happen for a reason, and I am going to hopefully look back and understand why this happened to Drew.” 

TeSelle said Drew would become invested in a hobby and focus on it for months. His most recent interest was skateboarding. He had never skated before joining the skateboarding group at Iowa State, where he easily made many friends.

Hoen met Drew through the skating group.

“Everyone gets along with him,” Hoen said. He described Drew as extremely friendly.

TeSelle agreed. 

“He is a very, very sweet person, and he cares a lot about people,” TeSelle said. “He was very confident in himself, which is something that I admired a lot. He was just really good. I don’t know how else to describe him.”

Another of Drew’s passions was photography. He shared his photos on Instagram, posting captivating images of sunsets and Midwestern landscapes. He also shared portraits of friends and family, including several of his younger sister, Elli.

Campbell said Drew and his sister were “the best of friends.” 

“He loves his sister so much. He talked about her so much,” TeSelle said. “He said it was one of those really special relationships. … I know they were just best friends.”

Elli is a cheerleader, and her cheer squad came up with the hashtag “DrewStrong” after the accident. Drew’s family and friends used #DrewStrong on social media to show support for his recovery. 

Although Drew’s life was taken unexpectedly, he will live on through the lives he will save through organ donation. 

“I am focusing my thoughts on the people whose lives will now be changing for the better—getting that much-prayed-for phone call,” Campbell wrote Sunday. “Their prayers answered all because of my beautiful, amazing and giving little boy.”

Drew is the son of Bob DiDonato and Jamie Campbell. 

 

Resources for students impacted by this loss include the following:

Student Counseling Service: (515) 294-5056

Thielen Student Health Center: (515) 294-5801

Student Assistance and Outreach: (515) 294-1020

(1) comment

Gabriela Aponte

My heart goes out to his family and friends. He sounds like such a wonderful person and I really hope his memory stays with those who loved him. He is also saving many lives and may God bless him for that.

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