July 19th, 2011
07:22 AM ET
In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week William Carter shares how a head-on collision changed his life's direction.
I was a sophomore in high school when I discovered what I wanted to do: work for the United Nations in some capacity.
From the moment I won my first award from the Model United Nations, I did everything I could to make sure that happened. I participated in more models, winning more awards, and even joined my school’s debate team to assist in my ability at discourse and just to look good on a college application.
I had it all set it out, a life plan that required a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest and a substantial SAT score to make sure that the first part was accessible.
But that was never going to happen, because on October 7, I was involved in a head-on collision with an SUV. I was catapulted out of my vehicle onto a stranger's lawn, suffered a seizure, and experienced a severe head injury.
Startled by the sounds of twisted metal, the homeowner rushed to the window to see the body of a boy, bloody and bruised, lying close to lifeless on her lawn. She rushed to the phone dialed 911, and dashed out to me, held my hand and prayed.
Put in an ambulance, I was rushed off to intensive care. The paramedics and soon the hospital doctors were not optimistic about my outcome. They consoled my parents and put me a coma, warning my family that even if I came out of it alive, I might not be the same person. I’m not, but we’ll deal with that later.
While comatose dreams danced through my brain, my parents and friends prayed for God’s healing hands. While I spent my nights with a oscillator churning my chest like a washing machine, my parents slept in the hospital, then in a camper in the parking lot.
The oscillator did my breathing for me, but after two weeks of being out of it, I opened my eyes to the Sufjan Stevens’ song “Chicago." The soulful melodies filled the air, as the medical staff smiled. That was the weekend.
On Monday, Dr. Weaver came in and leaned in to me, “Will, I’m going to ask you some yes or no questions. I need you to give a thumbs up if the answer's yes and thumbs down if the answer;'s no.” And, he proceeded to ask me a variety of simple questions, and my thumb went up and down.
The rain was falling outside, the pitter patter a welcoming symphony to return home, life’s sustainer announcing my return to life. There had been a drought and nothing seemed more appropriate for such a happy occasion than rain.
Dr. Weaver beamed as he came to my parents in the waiting room, “It’s a good day. It’s raining, and Will is responding to commands.”
It’s been a long road, and I’ve had my patience pushed and resolve tested, but now, I’m a senior at Oglethorpe University, pushing myself academically, proudly strutting a 3.887 GPA and membership in the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership fraternity.
The difference between a brain injury and brain damage is that with an injury, you heal, and I can see that clearly in my own life. During my freshman year at Oglethorpe, I was forced by the recent effects of my injury to focus completely on my academics. Now, I have finally re-blossomed into my social butterfly self.
Additionally, I’m pursuing my dreams by performing comedy all over the Atlanta area, even getting a chance to headline earlier this spring. I’m also pursuing my dreams of becoming a playwright, winning the playwriting portion of the 2010 Agnes Scott Writer’s Festival and writing a play about race issues with a world renowned stage-actor and writer, Curt Cloninger.
So yes, it’s been a challenging almost four years, but I’m doing great, loving life, and looking forward to grad school and my plans of teaching the joys of standup and dramatic writing to the future generations. Maybe I’m an eternal optimist; maybe I’ve finally realized my full potential. Either way, I’m smiling into the future, excited for the possibilities tomorrow has in store.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.