January 12, 2007
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
As the chief of general surgery and trauma at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Dr. Anthony Morgan doesn't fit the profile of a gangster.
But he was headed down that road on the mean streets of Philadelphia when he was a kid. Morgan was stabbed and shot twice before he was a teenager, he said. Though his injuries were superficial, he carries the scars as a reminder of where he could have ended up: a dead street fighter if his mother had not pulled him out of the fray.
She pushed him to study, to graduate from college and medical school, Morgan told a group of about 30 Hartford Public High School students who visited the hospital Thursday.
His lesson for them, called "Let's Not Meet By Accident," is a prevention program designed to teach high school students about the consequences of risky behavior, such as participating in gang violence, riding in cars without seatbelts or on motorcycles without helmets.
Many of Morgan's patients are youngsters suffering avoidable injuries. Some aren't breathing when they arrive in the emergency room; their lungs have collapsed. Others are immobile; they have brain injuries. He often has less than 10 minutes to save a life.
"Good parenting and education are everything," said Morgan, who has performed surgery on hundreds of violent-crime victims each year.
During a demonstration, ninth-grader Jerika Torres lay on an examining table, playing the role of Morgan's patient. If Torres were a real patient, Morgan explained, she would probably be struggling for life. He'd have few tools - mostly needles, bags and hoses - to get her breathing.
Torres flinched when Morgan held up a needle that might be inserted into a patient's chest. But she quickly relaxed when Morgan's soothing bedside tone eased her anxiety.
"The next thing we take is the scalpel," Morgan said, explaining how he might cut into the patient's throat to open a passage in the airway.
Torres looked antsy again.
"I'm not going to touch you," Morgan assured her in a comforting tone.
Despite the discomforting demonstration, Morgan's humor made it the lightest part of his presentation. His most serious tones were in describing risks he took as a youth.
"This is another message that needs to be heard," said Joseph Lombardo, a counselor at the high school. "Safety has to come first. Any time you can get a message like this, it's good."
Morgan said he deals with the city's most serious traumas, and sometimes his patients don't make it.
"Many of the children I talk to think they are going to live forever," Morgan said. "They are not. [Something] in society breeds this kind of behavior."
Urban violence has changed only in degrees since the 1950s, Morgan said. "We're doing a study on inner city violence, and [little] has really changed. Girls are becoming more violent, he said, and weapons used on city streets are more deadly.
Last summer, Morgan said, he treated a young man shot in the chest with a rifle in Hartford. Morgan tried, but the youth's injuries were impossible to fix.
"This is my passion. This is something I'm supposed to do. It doesn't stop me from trying," he said. "My job and responsibility are to take care of human beings and to put them back together again."
But he hopes his presentation will help keep Thursday's visitors out of the trauma room.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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