"I felt that God gave me a second chance. He gave me a purpose, Kevin Morton Jr. tells PEOPLE
A Michigan college student who was shot and almost died during an attempted robbery nine years ago is about to be back in the same hospital where he spent almost two months recovering – only this time he’ll be wearing doctor’s scrubs instead of a patient’s hospital gown.
Former patient Kevin Morton Jr. – who is now Dr. Kevin Morton Jr. – just graduated from medical school. Next month, he’ll begin his surgical residency and will do rotations at St. John Hospital in Detroit, the very same place where doctors at one point gave him a 10 percent chance of surviving and then ultimately saved his life.
The then college student’s brush with death and experience with a life-saving surgeon was so profound that he was inspired to switch to pre-med and become a surgeon.
“I don’t know if it was God or what, but I thought, ‘I’m in this situation for a reason,’ ” Morton tells PEOPLE. “I felt that God gave me a second chance. He gave me a purpose.”
Morton, who grew up in Detroit, was a 22-year-old college student and working up to 55 hours a week as a manager at a fast-food restaurant just outside the city in Eastpointe when the incident occurred.
Around 1 a.m. on July 9, 2007, he had just gotten into his car after work when someone approached the vehicle and fired a bullet through the window, hitting him in the abdomen.
“I just remember this shadow and flash of light,” says Morton, speculating that the robber was either after his car or thought Morton was carrying money for a bank deposit (the cash was actually in the restaurant’s safe). Morton managed to drive a short distance before losing consciousness and crashing. The crime remains unsolved.
Morton was rushed to St. John Hospital, where surgeons discovered the bullet had caused severe injuries to his superior mesenteric artery, which supplies blood to the pancreas and intestines.
“One of the residents told my family that I had a 10 percent chance of making it through the night because they were having trouble controlling the bleeding,” he says.
“It was a complex injury,” confirms Dr. Dharti Sheth, the trauma surgeon at the hospital that night. “It was a severe trauma.”
A vascular surgeon attempted to repair the damage but could not.
“I think they had kind of given up,” she says, but she decided to give it one more try and was able to put in more sutures.
“I wasn’t going to give up on him,” she says. “I figured if we can control the bleeding, we have a chance.”
This time, the stitches held. Morton ended up spending 50 days in the hospital, where he endured six surgeries, suffered numerous complications and lost half his pancreas and parts of his intestine. He could not eat for a year and survived on nutrition pumped into his body through an IV.
But despite the challenges he faced, the life-or-death experience proved transformative.
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“It provided a moment of clarity,” says Morton, who was a bio-chem major at the time planning to perhaps work for a pharmaceutical company.
“My dad always said, ‘Whatever situation you’re in, make sure you learn from it,'” says Morton of his father, a factory worker at Chrysler. “I took it all in.”
After a two-year recovery process, Morton returned to college at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan, with a new major, and just graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Now the 31-year-old married father of one daughter who lives in Warren, Michigan, starts his residency as a surgeon at the end of June. He’s already spent two years at the Detroit hospital as a medical student, and will do rotations in pediatrics and trauma there this year.
“It’s just a weird feeling walking through the halls on the other side of the bed,” says Morton, who also started an after-school program at the middle school where his wife teaches to introduce students to the medical field.
“I want them to have role models,” he says.
Sheth says she is honored to have played a role in Morton’s evolution. “I couldn’t be happier,” she shares.
Morton is happy with his new path in life.
“I wanted to have a profession where I can help people the way Dr. Sheth helped me,” he says. “I wanted to pay it forward.”