Now, 25 years later, Baltimore resident Damon Walker reunited earlier this month with the medical student who drove toward the chaos instead of running from it.
“I constantly think about that moment of being in the gutter and not having any hope to live, you know, knowing that death was imminent,” Walker told CNN on Friday. “I said a simple prayer that it would be nice if somebody came to pick me up.”
Walker says he couldn’t believe it when a car pulled up and “an angel” came to help him. It was Dr. Michael Franks. A medical student at the time, Franks saved Walker’s life that night on New Years Day 1996.
“We talked, we connected, we did a little hug and then we went and had some lunch across the street from my office and just talked a little more and processed things, just not for closure, but for seeing where he is and what happened,” Franks, 52, told CNN.
“I assume the worst when someone has a spinal cord injury, it’s a tough life,” Franks said. “He looked really good. He had the most positive vibe ever.”
Both men were stoic in that moment, but the emotion was there. Both had tears in their eyes, Walker says.
“It’s still kind of surreal in a sense, but I guess it offers some closure,” Walker, 44, said. “I just wanted to express my thanks and my gratitude.”
He didn’t have long to live
They revisited what happened that night and the moment that brought them together.
Walker, then 18, was leaving a club with friends around 3 a.m. after a New Year’s party. They were trying to hail a taxi near Oriole Park at Camden Yards when a car pulled up with several men in it, Walker says. A fight broke out and a few men assaulted Walker.
“He grabbed me and put me to the ground,” Walker said.
Walker gave what he had, hoping the attackers would go away after the robbery. Walker jumped up as they left and was met with three gunshots — one to his thumb, another through his chest and a third through his abdomen.
As he fell to the ground, Walker realized he had been paralyzed, he says. He prayed for someone to come help him, and that’s when Franks appeared.
“He went through the flow of traffic, he went opposite of what everybody was running from,” Walker said. “He went through that, and you don’t really see many people do that type of thing.”
Franks says he heard gunshots. Soon after, he got out of his car and saw Walker had been shot and was barely breathing.
As a University of Maryland medical student at the time, Franks knew Walker was in trouble. He opened his flip phone and considered dialing 911, but he realized he could get Walker to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, which was nearby.
“If anyone can take care of this guy, who probably has 10 to 15 minutes to live, it’s that place,” Franks said. “So, I just made a decision to put him in the car and take him to the front door to cut out 911.”
How Walker is giving back to other victims
Franks says he doesn’t seek out the spotlight. The self-professed introvert is a surgeon who is used to medical emergencies.
“It’s hard for me to talk about,” Franks said. “I’m a doer, I think anyone would have done that, but I know maybe in retrospect, maybe not.”
While some choose to think of Franks as a hero, he thinks the real story is about Walker and the remarkable way he’s chosen to live his life and give back to his community.
After getting out of the hospital, going through physical therapy and adjusting to his life in a wheelchair, Walker says he dedicated himself to learning and reading, as he was “functionally illiterate” at the time.
He worked as a peer counselor. And now he’s a violence prevention specialist at a local hospital. Walker tries to help gunshot or stabbing victims get jobs or assist them however he can.
Walker recalls the level of care he got when he was shot and just how well people took care of him, from helping him medically to making him laugh when he needed it.
“If you help these people heal, you might be healing more than a bullet wound,” he said. “You might be healing some aspect of not trusting the system, not trusting people that now they can offer understanding to other people that go through the same thing.”
Letting Franks know how he’s giving back to his community was part of why he wanted to reconnect with him, Walker says.
“I wanted to let him know that what he did not only helped save me but helped save my community,” Walker said. “I know I wouldn’t have been able to give that (to my community) if it wasn’t for him helping me that day.”