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Brush with death becomes life-saving moment

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A Memphis hospital is grabbing troubled youth at their worst and using the experience to turn their lives around.

WREG takes you inside one of the more than 20 programs the mayor is supporting to cut down on youth violence. The city invested $14,000 to show victims there's more to life, just minutes after a brush with death.

Few things can grab your attention like a brush with death and a trip to the Regional Medical Trauma Center. It's the place where some teens and young adults are now realizing how short life can be, especially when violence is a way of life.

"When you come in here, the first thing they're going to do is put the lights on you," 20-year-old Darmeisha Gross, a shooting victim, said.

She added, "When I first came in here, they laid me on the bed over there. Started asking me questions about how many times I got shot."

Gross was 19 and pregnant when she was shot six times. She survived, but her unborn child did not.

"Losing my child was the main reason that I had wanted to stop being in any kind of violence going on, because folks don't know how it feels to lose a child," she said.

It was the worst moment in her life, until she got a visit from the hospital's violence intervention team at her bedside.

"That's when you want to get the opportunity to talk with them and say now you're here. You're alive for a reason. Let's find out what that reason is," Elgin Tunstall with Regional One Health said.

Tunstall is part of the Rx for Change. It targets patients ages 14 to 25 who come into the hospital with violent injuries. Each client is asked the same question.

"'What do we need to do to make sure you don't come back in here again?'" Tunstall said.

The program promotes positive alternatives to violence by helping young patients get jobs, training, and continued education.

"We just kind of check it off. Every goal that we meet. Those small milestones. All of them count. Anything that deters them from going back to a way of life they were doing," Tunstall said.

Gross spoke about how the program helped her.

"Now I'm doing a lot better than I used to do. Running the streets and doing all that, but now I'm focusing on me working and bettering my life," she said.

Not every young person that comes through this trauma center wants to be a part of the program, but most of them do. In the one year since the program started, more than 65 have signed on in hopes of changing their life and changing their environment.

Only four percent of those who've gone through Rx for Change have been back because of violence. Darmeisha's only trips since are to share good news.

Instead of hanging out with the wrong crowd, Darmeisha enrolled in the Job Corp and is now working as a waitress downtown. The hospital nursed her body back to health and gave her the prescription to stay safe and away from things that lead to trouble.

"Getting shot six times, it really does hurt and it's painful, and I thank God every day that I'm here to see another day," she said.

The city provided the initial funding to help train staff for the intervention program. Now the hospital is getting support from its foundation to continue operating it.