Kevin Morton was just like any other hard-working bio-chem college student. He was a Detroit native, with a flexible night-manager job to help pay the bills while he attended school at Oakland University. You might have expected all kinds of possible outcomes, but did you expect this?
The Fateful Shooting
He was shot in the restaurant parking lot and he might have even died. Then, as if it was some kind of miracle, the local hospital saved his life. That, in itself, might have been enough of a story. He survived. But, his experience inspired him to do more than just survive. He decided to give back. Learn more about what happened 9 years later.
Childhood in Detroit, Michigan
Kevin Morton lived in Detroit, Michigan. He’d grown up there, and his dad, Kevin Morton Sr, worked nights at the Chrysler factory. He’d lived with his mother in a “rough neighborhood” on the “wrong side of the tracks” until he was 8, when he went to live with his father. He saw how hard his dad worked, but he’d never been exposed to professional roles like doctors. He never knew he could dream “that big,” so his whole tragic and traumatic experience not only saved his life, but it opened his life, and he immediately wanted to “pay it forward” but also make sure that other kids knew how and why they can be successful.
Kevin Morton Worked at Arby’s
At the time that Kevin Morton Jr became famous, he was just 22-years old. He was a bio-chem major at Oakland University, where he was a Junior. His plan was to finish his degree, and then possibly to find work at a pharmaceuticals job, but he was working up to 55 hours a week as a manager at a fast-food restaurant, Arby’s, just outside Eastpointe. It was located along Detroit’s infamous 8-Mile stretch. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood, but Morton took precautions as he always did. He wasn’t expecting the chain of events that would suddenly change his life forever.
Kevin Morton Was a Manager, So He Locked up As Usual
July 9, 2007 was a Monday, so Kevin Morton was just starting off his week at school, and working his evening shift at Arby’s as usual. He was scheduled as the evening-shift manager on that night, so he performed the regular closing procedures, locked up and headed to his car. He also used his remote-start on his car, so he could quickly just run to his car, get in and speed away, as he’d done so many times before. Events unfolded quickly, though, and he really doesn’t remember a whole lot about what happened when a man attacked him and shot him in the chest. (He remembers the burning feeling in his chest.)
Kevin Morton Was Shot
It all happened so fast. Kevin Morton says, “I just remember this shadow and flash of light.” He surmised that the robber may have been trying to steal his car. Or, maybe the person thought they could get some easy cash by robbing him of the day’s deposit. Of course, it wasn’t a safe neighborhood, so the cash was safely stowed in the restaurant’s safe, behind that quickly locked door, as Morton was headed out at closing. The assailant ended up leaving the scene empty-handed. After being shot, Morton managed to drive a short distance before losing consciousness and crashing his vehicle. The crime remains unsolved.
An Ambulance Quickly Transported Him to St. John Hospital
The rest of Kevin Morton’s morning unfolded much as you might expect, after a traumatic gunshot incident has taken place. Morton managed to speed away from the Arby’s restaurant. So, he got away, about a half-mile! But, that success was quickly undermined when he lost consciousness and crashed his vehicle. He also had a gunshot wound in his chest, and he was losing blood (as you’d well imagine), and he had just crashed his car. He needed help and he needed it quickly. Fortunately, the ambulance brought him to St. John Hospital, where doctors and the care there would save his life (against all odds) and change him, really, forever.
St. John Hospital Received a Gunshot Victim
The St. John Hospital may have been the perfect place for him to go. They have an Emergency Center and a Level II Trauma Center. St. John was also named a Blue Distinction Center in cardiovascular care by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network. But, the hospital was also providing service to one of the most violent cities in the US, and more black men are statistically affected by gun-related crimes than any other in Detroit, particularly in his age group. The prognosis also wasn’t good. They only gave a 10% chance of survival. The doctor, Dr. Dharti Sheth-Zelmanski, and health care team were determined to save Morton’s life, no matter what the odds.
Kevin Morton Was in Critical Condition
You can see that Kevin Morton was in rough shape. That 10% chance of survival was a tough reality check, particularly since they weren’t able to control the bleeding. For his part, Kevin Morton Sr. said, “I never prayed so hard in my life.” He sat in the hospital chapel, and said, “My son never did anything wrong. I couldn’t believe some stranger was going to steal his life in the middle of the night. There is no doubt he was left here to save somebody else’s life like his was.” His father’s words would be more prophetic than he would ever know, both then and later.
Dr. Dharti Sheth Saved Kevin Morton
So, Kevin Morton was shot in the abdomen, he’d lost a lot of blood, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding. The bullet had damaged the superior mesenteric artery, which supplies blood to the pancreas and intestines. Kind of a big deal!
In even the most dramatic stories, you’d probably have expected him not to make it. But, he’d already beat the odds to get where he was at, as a hard-working 22-year-old college student. He was not willing to give up. He survived that abysmal 10-percent prognosis, and then also survived the myriad of surgeries that awaited him. He woke up from the medically induced coma several weeks later, but his struggle didn’t end there.
Kevin Morton Recovered…But That’s Not All
Even when he survived the first night, and even when he went on to eventually wake up from the coma, Kevin Morton’s body had sustained significant damage. There’s a reason why gunshots to the abdomen are such a life-threatening event. In his case, the bullet had passed through his diaphragm, but it also hit a major blood vessel and an artery. He also, not so surprisingly, had a collapsed lung. The damage was so severe that surgeons were also forced to remove half of his pancreas, small intestines and colon. Damage to his intestines as well as complications made it necessary for him to receive nutrition for a year via an IV.
Worse than that, though, one vascular surgeon had already tried to repair the damage, and had been unsuccessful. Dr. Dharti Sheth seemed undeterred, though. And, despite the odds, her sutures held.
Kevin Morton’s Family Continued to Grow
Whatever the odds of his survival might have been, his complete recovery was beyond amazing. Some might call it miraculous, particularly after the kind of damage he’d sustained from the gunshot. But, he was young, and he had a lot to live for. He explained, “My dad always said, ‘Whatever situation you’re in, make sure you learn from it.'” He did much more than just “learn from it.”
“I don’t know if it was God or what, but I thought, ‘I’m in this situation for a reason,’ ” Morton told People magazine. “I felt that God gave me a second chance. He gave me a purpose.” As part of that purpose, he decided to live life to the fullest, and also to pay it forward.
Morton Married His High-School Sweetheart
Kevin Morton married his long-time girlfriend and high-school sweetheart, Sherry, in 2009 and Dr. Dharti Sheth attended the wedding. They also celebrated the birth of their daughter, Sahara, and they went on to own a home in Warren. In a lot of ways, he has said, “It seems like everything in my life is perfect… It’s like a dream come true.”
He also introduced Dr. Sheth at his wedding, as the woman who had saved his life. Obviously, he would never be the same. His near-death experience changed what he wanted to do, be, and become, but he also wanted to hold onto those things that were most precious in his life.
Kevin Morton’s father always said that his son could do whatever he wanted to accomplish. Morton had always maintained a 4.0 grade point average, so when he began to show an interest in becoming a doctor, his dad knew he could do it. Beyond the education he received at Oakland university, he want on to enroll in the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine. He also received scholarships, and was encouraged and supported by many along the way.
It may have all begun in the blink of an eye, and progressed in the worst, most harrowing chain of events possible, but he’s forgiven the many who shot him. “Holding on to things like that tend to hold you back,” Morton says. “It’s the only way to move forward.”
Dr. Dharti Sheth Is Still Important
It may have been 9 years later, but Dr. Dharti Sheth-Zelmanski is still important to Kevin Morton. It was because of her skills and caring, as well as the extraordinary care of the entire medical team, that Morton was able to “pay it forward” as he’d come to hope.
Dr. Jason Dilly, an ophthalmologist, also encouraged him to become a doctor, saying of Morton, “When you first meet him, he puts forth the best that humanity has to offer. That’s a strange thing to say about a stranger you just met. But I could tell after talking to him for 15 minutes he was truly a special man.”
More Than Just a Graduation
On Graduation day, Morton asked Sheth-Zelmanski to hood him, an honor you’d usually expect to reserve for a close family member or mentor. But, she really was an important part of his life. She’d saved his life, and that wasn’t something he was ever going to forget. Again, she wept. She said she told him, “I’m old enough to be your mother. What more can a mother want from a son than their best?”
She may not have expected it of him, but he’d already decided that he was going to give back, in a professional as well as personal way.
Kevin Morton Walked Across the Stage
Kevin Morton finally graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2016. Dr. Dharti Sheth attended his graduation ceremony. “He has all the qualities of a good doctor,” she told CNN. “He has the intellect, the personality, good eye contact and is very pleasant and easy to talk to. He’s very positive.”
But, she’d also become a part of his family. At his wedding, Sheth said, “I remember crying for joy.” But, now, his graduation was the culmination of all his hopes and dreams, the impossible finally made very real and “possible” as he’d never dared imagine. But, graduation was not (and is not) the end of the story.
Sahara Thanks Dr. Sheth
It’s easy to see how the graduation and all the celebrations surrounding it was a bittersweet beautiful time for all those involved. After all, Kevin Morton had already beat the odds to even survive. And, then, there’s the moment that his daughter, Sahara, thanked Dr. Sheth for saving her father’s life. Cuteness aside, look at the image of a little girl holding out her hand to thank the doctor who has played such an essential role. Although she’s probably too young to understand the full importance of the past trauma, and current graduation, she knows that a female doctor has made a dramatic difference in her own life.
Standing there with his wife and daughter, you’d not have thought that he was once so near to death’s door. He went from a 10% chance of survival to a full-life, well lived, with a wife, daughter, academic degree, house, and what would appear to be everything he could possibly wish for. But, he wanted (even needed) more. His goal was to give back a piece of what he’d received, and help save those “lost cause” cases that other docs might just give up on. Docs like Dr. Sheth didn’t give up on him, after all. He would be there for other “kids” just like him…
Kevin Morton Returns to the Hospital
So, Kevin Morton returned to the hospital that had saved his life. “It’s just a weird feeling walking through the halls on the other side of the bed,” Morton says. He probably knows the hospital in ways that most residents would never want to imagine.
Beyond his residency at the hospital, though, he has also started an after-school program for kids just like he used to be. He remembers that he’d never known a black doctor, and didn’t even know it was a profession that was possible for him (until he entered the hospital that fateful night in 2007). His wife is a teacher at the school, and he wants to make sure kids are introduced to the medical field.
Now Kevin Morton Is a Resident
Now, Kevin Morton is a resident at that very same hospital that once saved his life. It’s St. John Hospital in Detroit. You may not have heard of it until now, but it’s enough to know that doctors there have made such a life-altering difference in the life of one young man. It’s heartening to learn that he’s now eagerly anticipating every opportunity to save another life. His doctor-mentor recalls, Dr. Sheth-Zelmanski, “We knew he wasn’t going to give up,” said. “We weren’t gonna give up — so we had to make it happen.” Now Morton is there to “make it happen” for other patients.