A shot rings out and a King dies. But for 64 minutes, the issue is in doubt.

At 6:01 pm on April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King was shot. He was pronounced dead at 7:05 pm at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis, TN after a failed attempt at open cardiac massage. He was 39 years old.

King was standing on the balcony outside room 306 on the second floor of the Lorraine Motel when, in the words of biographer Taylor Branch, time on the balcony turned lethal and King’s sojourn on earth went blank.

But why? What kind of damage did that bullet do? Was King doomed the moment that piece of lead crashed through him? Is there any action that might have saved his life as he lay supine on that balcony, bleeding profusely from a wound to his right jaw and neck? In truth, he wasn’t pronounced dead for 64 interminable minutes. Was he, in fact, alive during that time? Was there ever a chance he could have been saved by the relatively crude trauma care of 1968? And how about today? If King was shot in 2013, might he survive?

Saving King
by Edison McDaniels, MD

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