Dr. Joseph Sakran checking in with patient
Victim of gun violence returns to the E.R., this time as the surgeon
01:20 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

At 17, Joseph Sakran was shot and sustained life-threatening injuries

He decided to use his "second chance" to help others and is now a trauma surgeon in Baltimore

CNN  — 

In the blink of an eye, Joseph Sakran’s life was forever altered.

He was 17 years old and attending a high school football game when a fight broke out and someone in the crowd pulled out a gun.

“I remember first seeing flashes, and then it felt as if everything was going in slow motion,” Sakran said. “I was wearing white that night, and I looked down, and I knew something was wrong. My clothes were drenched in blood.”

A .38-caliber bullet went through his throat and struck him in his left shoulder, leaving him with life-threatening injuries. His windpipe was ruptured, and he had injuries to his carotid artery and to one of his vocal cords.

Joseph Sakran in high school, the year before he was shot.

After extensive surgeries, Sakran had to stay in the hospital for about a month to recover.

His vocal cords would never be the same, but he was grateful to be alive.

“I realized, yes, I have a paralyzed vocal cord, but I also have a second chance of life. I said, ‘You have to make the best of what you’ve been given.’ That really is what inspired me to go into medicine.”

From patient to doctor

Giving people a second chance is now Sakran’s full-time job as a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“We see a significant amount of gunshot victims here,” Sakran said. According to the Baltimore Sun, 299 people were shot to death in the city in 2017.

One of Sakran’s patients, gunshot survivor Richard Love, says he would have been another number on this list if not for Sakran.

“He gave me a second chance. I was on the verge of losing my leg,” Love said. “He knows what I’m going through and the trauma that was going through my body at the time. Thanks to him, I’m a survivor.”

Sakran said that being able to provide others with a second chance is the thing he loves most about his job, but it’s only one way he’s looking to make a difference.

He’s also working outside the operating room to try to stop others from experiencing the trauma he’s gone through.

Dr. Joseph Sakran checks in with a patient.

Man on a mission

Sakran is the founder of Docs Demand Action, a group of physicians from different specialties working to promote “common-sense” gun legislation, like universal background checks, cracking down on “bad apple” gun dealers and locking up weapons in homes with children.

“We’ve opened up having a civil dialogue with people that have opposing views,” Sakran said. “This is not a Democratic problem; it’s not a Republican problem. It’s an American problem. And we have to figure out how do we bridge that divide.”

Sakran is also a gun violence prevention speaker. Even though his damaged vocal cord gives him some trouble sometimes, he said, he wouldn’t change his life.

“Sometimes I reflect that ‘Oh, man, I wish I had that second vocal cord’ during a certain speech or if I’m out in a very loud crowd. When I was young, I’d ask myself, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ But at the same time, I often think that I might not be here today, doing what I’m doing, had that not happened.”

He still has the bullet that shaped him and his future. He keeps it as a daily reminder of both how “lucky” he was and how much work there is left to do.

“The worst day of my life, in a very kind of odd way, it was probably also the best,” he said, “because it gave me this opportunity where I’m out here trying to make a difference in other people’s lives and hopefully leave this world a better place.”