PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Two years ago, a random act of violence nearly silenced the voice of a renowned local jazz singer.
But, Carlton Leeper refused to be a victim. His recovery has amazed even veteran medical professionals.
He’s come a long way since he was shot in the face in Stowe Township. Now, it’s a miracle every time Leeper steps up to the mic and belts out a tune.
“For a second, I closed my eyes and I remember seeing stars as if I had gotten punched in the head,” he said. “I opened my eyes and saw the blood, a river of blood, and said, ‘Did I just get shot?’ I remember thinking, ‘Lord, I don’t want to die.'”
Carlton was rushed to Allegheny General Hospital in critical condition. Unable to speak, he could only describe what happened by writing on a tablet.
“[The bullet] entered my lip, pierced my tongue and lodged in my jaw,” he said.
Despite the damage, Leeper knew he would speak and sing again.
However, his doctors were not so optimistic because of what they saw on his X-ray.
The bullet had shattered his teeth, bones and gums and turned his mouth into a jigsaw puzzle.
“Most people would not have survived an injury like that. He’s very, very lucky to be here today,” Dr. Patrick Dalton, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, said.
Dr. Dalton said Leeper’s injuries were complicated and required soft tissue repairs.
“His first surgery was to repair these multiple fractures using a titanium reconstruction plate that we use for these type of surgeries,” he said.
He says Leeper’s determination played a major role in his recovery.
“Tremendous willpower and I think that’s why he is where he is today,” Dr. Dalton said.
“I remember when I woke up and realized I wasn’t dead. I said, ‘Yes!’” Leeper recalled.
It took months for his voice to return, but his recovery was so impressive and unimaginable that he was chosen to be featured in an Allegheny Health Network commercial.
“I believe I’m a much better singer now, after I got shot, than before because my mind and heart are in a different place,” Leeper said.
He said he’s more spiritual and more forgiving now, too.
Because of that, he’s finally been able to go back to the place where he was shot, for the first time.
The night it happened Leeper was picking up his son on Ridge Avenue.
After his son got into the car, another car pulled up alongside them and shots were fired.
“I was sitting on this side of the car, my son was sitting on the other side of the car, obviously, but miraculously it missed him and I took one here in the face,” Leeper said.
No one was ever arrested.
Leeper has always believed it was a case of mistaken identity.
Just like he had faith that he would make it through this, he also has faith that one day, the person who shot him will be brought to justice.
“Karma will catch up with them. Yes, you can’t avoid it. You know how they talk about the seed that you sow, it’s going to grow up to be a pretty awful tree,” Leeper said.