Shooting Incident Can’t Silence His Song




 

On a quiet summer Saturday night in 2015 in McKees Rocks, Pa., six random bullets struck a parked car, hitting Carlton Leeper, a professional singer, who was sitting inside with his son.

He took a bullet in the face. “That was my first real prayer,” recalled Carlton. “I was terrified. I was not ready to die.”

Fortunately, an off-duty police officer lived across the street; he took control of the situation, calling an ambulance. Carlton was rushed to Allegheny General Hospital's emergency department with a shattered jaw.

Once Carlton was stable, Dr. William Castillo performed reconstructive surgery on his mouth and jaw. Carlton recovered in the hospital for 13 days. He had to be fed through a tube and spoke only with a tracheostomy device.

“I came around Sunday evening, but I couldn’t speak or eat. I was just so relieved I was alive,” he said. “By Wednesday I was writing notes and cracking jokes. The doctors were amazed.”

The damage to his jaw and tongue could have meant the end of his singing career, which started in the choir in high school.

“I’ve sung with the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera and in the lobby of the Omni William Penn Hotel. When I studied with Raymond Blackwell, a voice coach at Carnegie Mellon University, I really learned how to sing and enjoy it,” said Carlton.

After the surgery, speech therapy at AHN helped him regain the ability to speak and swallow. He continued with voice lessons from Blackwell for many more weeks.

Carlton was never concerned that he’d lose his talent. “I was definitely going to sing again, I didn’t worry about that much. The scary part was looking in the mirror a week after the accident. I didn’t recognize myself.”

Though Carlton’s diction while speaking isn’t perfect, he can hide the impediment when he sings. “It’s easier to sing than to speak in English, because of the long sustained passages,” he said.

He has had to give up some of the work that requires a high level of vocal skills, such as being a D.J. at clubs, and he’s learned that recording studios aren’t as forgiving as the human ear. “Microphones pick up every nuance,” he said.

The experience has changed Carlton’s perspective. “I am very grateful every day to be alive. I’ve learned something very valuable,” he said. ”It was a shame something like this had to happen to make me appreciate life so much more.

“God whispers to some people. Other people have to get shot in the face to get the message,” he added. “Now I ask Him, what do you want me to learn today?”

Still, eight months after the accident, Carlton is back on the stage every Thursday night at Cavo nightclub, his gift of song reborn.

A singer who won’t be silenced is living proof of the healing powers of music, and of medicine.

To learn more about Oral and Maxillofacial surgery, visit www.ahn.org/specialties/oral-maxillofacial-surgery

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

It's a Sign: Could Pittsburgh Be the New Hollywood?

It's a Sign: Could Pittsburgh Be the New Hollywood?

Pittsburgh could be well on its way to replicating one of Hollywood’s most prominent landmarks.
Where in Pittsburgh to Dump Your Old TV or Computer

Where in Pittsburgh to Dump Your Old TV or Computer

You are going to want to print this list and keep it handy.
Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.
Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.