‘NBC Nightly News’ to tell new doctor’s survival story

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

The story of a Detroit gunshot victim who became a doctor after a physician saved his life will be broadcast before a national audience Tuesday on the “NBC Nightly News” with Lester Holt.

First told in The News, the journey of Dr. Kevin Morton Jr. began in July 2007 when a gunman shot him at an Arby’s in Eastpointe, and he almost died. At the time, Morton was 22, manager at the fast food restaurant and a student at Oakland University.

When he arrived at St. John Hospital in Detroit, trauma surgeon Dr. Dharti Sheth-Zelmanski operated on him, removing the bullet that passed through his stomach, diaphragm, pancreas and two main blood vessels, and saving his life.

Morton was inspired by Sheth-Zelmanski’s work, and decided to become a surgeon. He studied at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and graduated last week — almost nine years after he was shot.

Now 31, Morton hopes to one day pay it forward.

Kevin Tibbles, the NBC Midwest correspondent who interviewed Morton and Sheth-Zelmanski, said he is well aware of the calamitous stories of Detroit, but also the positive changes that are taking place every day.

“What a story this one is!” Tibbles said. “A young man, whose life was so very nearly cut short, chooses the path of medicine to recognize the woman surgeon who would not give up on him. It is a story that so defines much of what unheralded people represent in our country: Two people thrown together in the most horrific of circumstances, only to come out the other end whole and forward looking.”

Tibbles spent Monday in Metro Detroit before flying back to his base in Chicago to prepare his story that will air on the nation’s most-watched television newscast, with 8.3 million viewers during the week of April 25. “NBC Nightly News” airs at 6:30 p.m. locally. A spokesman said that the newscast’s contents are subject to change in case of breaking news.

Though Morton points to her, Sheth-Zelmanski said the story is not about her but about his character.

“Hopefully it will inspire others to not get caught up in the negativity of a situation, and stay positive,” she said.

Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield wrote that her office would like to present him a Spirit of Detroit award.

Morton — who begins his residency next month at St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital in Madison Heights — has been asked by other local media for interviews and invited to be an inspirational speaker, even though he is not comfortable with the limelight. But he understands why people are drawn to his story.

“It’s that classic story of someone who is down, but not out,” Morton said. “And a story about someone never giving up.”

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com