War Vet Survives Bullet Through the Heart

ByABC News
December 5, 2001, 11:42 AM

Dec. 10 -- Donald Morehouse awoke from routine bypass surgery last month only to learn he had brought back more from the Korean War than just a medal he had survived being shot through the heart, and no one knew it until now.

The 70-year-old veteran from Pennsylvania had been treated during the war for a bullet wound to the chest. But during a recent procedure, doctors made a startling discovery evidence that Morehouse had been shot through the heart nearly a half century before.

"We had what we're calling a collective jaw drop," says Dr. James McClurken, lead surgeon and chief of thoracic surgery at Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, Pa. "It was really a 'Holy smokes!' kind of agreement."

McClurken and his team found calcified scars from an entry wound from a .29-caliber bullet in Morehouse's left atrium, the upper chamber of the heart, and an exit wound in the right atrium. The bullet appears to have entered through his left shoulder and pierced his heart.

"I was astounded, I couldn't believe it," recalls Morehouse, "[McClurken] told me, 'We found a bullet wound it went in one side of your heart and came out the other,' and I said well that's sure news to me because when I was wounded they told me it was close to the heart and I thought I was being treated for a lung problem I had absolutely no idea that happened."

Its Really a Miracle

The former infantryman was shot seven times during a Korean War ambush on his 25th Infantry Division unit in June of 1953. Six shots were deflected by his bulletproof jacket. After being shot, Morehouse says he traveled close to three miles on foot before he was taken to a field hospital.

Doctors who initially cared for Morehouse told him he was lucky the bullet, which Morehouse still keeps, had hit his shoulder, but missed his heart. The slug was found lodged in his right side against his bulletproof jacket and was removed by military surgeons.

Morehouse, a retired drug and alcohol coordinator for the Pennsylvania United Auto Workers Union, was presented the Purple Heart for Military Merit for his service in Korea.