Fighting Back

updated 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/29/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

EDDIE MATOS HAS VIVID MEMORIES of his life in the fast lane—the fancy cars, the flashy jewelry he lavished on girlfriends, the $1,000-a-month, two-bedroom apartment he kept in Queens, N.Y.—and the crack deals that paid for all of it. He was 16.

Shortly before midnight on Sept. 10, 1990, on a sidewalk of Matos's East New York turf, a rival dealer shot him in the back of the neck. Matos was permanently paralyzed from the neck down. "I wanted to die," he says. That harrowing moment—recaptured in P.O.W.E.R.: The Eddie Matos Story, an HBO drama telecast on Aug. 23 and Sept. 20—was the darkest chapter in Matos's life, but, thankfully, not the last.

Today, he sits in a wheelchair in Ward C12 of Goldwater Memorial Hospital on New York City's Roosevelt Island, his home ever since the shooting. Able to breathe only through a respirator, Matos has nevertheless managed to move a few mountains. In 1992, shaken by the shooting of two students at his old high school, Thomas Jefferson, Matos was inspired to help launch P.O.W.E.R. (People Opening the World's Eyes to Reality), which enabled him and fellow patients—all young victims of violence—to address local high school assemblies. Matos's message: "Don't make the same choices [I did]. Don't do drugs and don't do guns."

Matos has a grim familiarity with both. One of three children of parents who divorced when Matos was 3, he was 12 when his mother, Ilene, an alcoholic and drug addict, was found raped and murdered. By 13, Matos was on his own. Lured by a friend into drug dealing, he was soon making $3,500 a week. By 16, he says, "I had everything." And then, in a burst of gunfire, he lost it all.

But, as Matos Story producer Howard Meltzer observes, "Eddie is a real fighter." Now working toward his high school diploma, he is thinking of a career as a writer and dreams of someday getting his own apartment. "I'm tired of seeing the same wheelchairs," he says. "I want to go out and enjoy myself."

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