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Former foster child, now U of M med student, earns leadership award for helping kids like him

Former foster child, now U of M med student, earns leadership award for helping kids like him
Former foster child, now U of M med student, earns leadership award for helping kids like him 03:29

MINNEAPOLIS -- A University of Minnesota med student is getting a special award for mentoring young people.

To fully understand the depth of this award, you have to hear about Michael Kelly's own childhood. It's a story that began in Duluth, Minnesota, in a turbulent way.

"I was living in a garage and eating out of a shoebox. Not the best quality of life," Kelly said. "It was always cold in there and I would just get colds all the time and it was -- I just didn't have that stable doctor in my life."

In fact, he didn't have much stability at all.

"I was in and out of the foster care system growing up. I moved 16 different times," he said. "I have a twin sister and a younger sister that actually entered foster care before me and then after foster care we were all separated and never lived in the same household again. It's kind of like pouring a bucket of cold water over your head. It's kind of like that shock, you're like, everything is different. My school is different, my neighborhood is different, my family is different. I'm sleeping in a different bed tonight than I was the night before. And I don't know what got me to think about how I want the rest of my life to turn out."

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It was in that moment of unknowns that he knew.

"I realized that instead of becoming a victim of circumstance, I was going to take responsibility for my situation and just pull myself up by the bootstraps and try to become the person that my parents weren't, basically," he said.

For Kelly, that started at school.

"I found that through the clubs I was in, through the classes I was in, studying with friends at school. That was a positive environment for me. I didn't have too many positive environments outside of school so I think it was natural for me to end up at school every day, coming in early and staying late," he said.

At the advice of a mentor, he started volunteering at a hospital, observing the medical care he himself had never received. He aged out of foster care and got in to St. John's University, creating a neuroscience major.

"I'm a first generation college student, I wanted to not just go to college, I wanted to go to a professional school, now I'm in med school," he said.

Now he's a second year medical student at the University of Minnesota. Amidst the business of studying, he's helped start a thriving mentorship program -- MD Link -- and been given a leadership award from the state's medical association.

He's modeling a path for other kids navigating the foster system.

"I probably want them to know that you can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start exactly where you are at and change the ending," Kelly said.

And to think, this is only the beginning of this career in caring.

"Ten years ago I would have never thought I was in this position, but here we are. So it just goes to show that if you are feeling hopeless, you're feeling down, you just don't feel like you have a purpose, you do," Kelly said.

And he has found his.

"You can feel it in your heart, you just know when you know. For being in a place where I didn't have a home for so long, I feel like I'm at home here," he said.

Kelly said he is still deciding which type of medicine he will go into. He's thinking about family medicine or emergency medicine.

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