Courtesy Peter Gold Peter Gold
As a fourth-year medical student at Tulane University in New Orleans in 2015, Peter Gold was laser-focused on his career, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and uncle in becoming a doctor.
But an unexpected brush with death made him rethink his priorities.
"I still want to work hard and be the best surgeon I can be," Gold, 30, tells PEOPLE. "But I also know there are people out there who could be the best they could be if they had more support and resources."
Gold's life changed forever at 4 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2015, when he was driving home in the historic Lower Garden District and saw something out of the corner of his eye that stopped him cold.
"I saw this man dragging a woman down the middle of the street in a chokehold," says Gold.
Instinctively, he pulled over and jumped out of his car, yelling for the man to get away from her. The assailant, Euric Cain, then 22, released the terrified woman and immediately turned to Gold, pointing his gun at him and demanding money.
With no cash on hand, Gold offered his credit cards and phone, which seemed to anger Cain.
"He said point blank, 'I'm just going to kill you,' and shot me in the stomach," says Gold.
Writhing in pain on the ground with his back to Cain, Gold was unaware that Cain was aiming the gun at his head.
But when the gun jammed three times, Cain fled. "It was a miracle," says Gold.
When Gold was taken to University Medical Center, he was rushed into surgery to start repairing damage to his spleen and small intestines.
"They told my family in between the first and second surgery that they couldn't complete the initial surgery because I wasn't stable enough," he says. "And they really weren't sure if I would make it through the second surgery. ... Luckily I did."
While recovering in the ICU, Gold and some friends decided to start Strong City, a non-profit that raises money for gun violence prevention research and local organizations that support underserved and at-risk youth.
The goal? To keep kids off the streets and give them opportunities to thrive and live productive lives.
For more on Dr. Peter Gold and Strong City, subscribe now or pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
"Strong City is a place where all of us just come together under one cause, with just one goal in mind, which is to help get kids on the right foot so those kids can be happy, successful adults," Gold says.
Helping Kids in New Orleans
After Gold and his friends officially launched Strong City in 2017, they began raising money for the New Orleans-based Youth Empowerment Project, which provides more than 1,000 kids and teens each year with summer camp, mentoring, and after-school and employment-readiness programs.
BIG NEWS: #YEPNOLA has been invited to represent #Louisiana in a virtual inauguration ceremony tomorrow, alongside participants from all 56 states and territories. Keep an eye out for us starting at 2:15pm at https://t.co/vRnIsTHg2U #ParadeAcrossAmerica pic.twitter.com/dKvtbkfEDC
— YEP (@YEPNOLA) January 19, 2021
In the years since its inception, Strong City has bought YEP a new cargo van and renovated the kitchen at its NOLA headquarters. It also puts kids and teens in touch with professionals in the fields they're interested in pursuing.
Right now, Strong City is working on raising $10,000 to feed YEP students and their families for 6 months through its newest fundraiser, Chef Seminar.
"Obviously right now food insecurity, especially with COVID, is a really big issue," says Gold.
Strong City is partnering with chefs at New Orleans restaurants who put together videos of them cooking their favorite dishes.
"For a recommended donation of $25, people will be able to access those videos, and cook a meal with a famous New Orleans chef," he says.
YEP's founder and CEO Melissa Sawyer and its Chief Program Officer, Darrin McCall, are grateful for the support Strong City has given them.
"Peter and his team of people have been really collaborative in how they're getting the support directly to young people," says McCall.
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Alex Brands, who helped Gold found Strong City, isn't surprised at his best friend's altruism.
"He's always thinking about how to help others," says Brands. "He got into medicine because he loves helping people and making a difference in people's lives."
Now in his last year as an orthopedic resident at a New York hospital and gearing up for a fellowship in Philadelphia, Gold credits his parents, sister, and friends with being his "support system."
And, of course, one of the people whose lives Gold influenced most is the woman he saved that night in 2015. "She did contact me after and of course thanked me, and that was very touching," he says.