It was 3 a.m. on February 28. Seventeen-year-old Samantha McClellan of Jacksonville was driving home and using her cell phone. She was distracted, lost control, over-corrected, and slid off the road into a tree.
"At first, that we were concerned about whether she would survive," said Dr. Fred Wilson, an Ortho/Trauma Surgeon at ETMC in Tyler.
Samantha suffered multiple injuries on her face and body. She had several fractured and broken bones. Her hip bones were separated and had to be put back together. To this day, she still has glass coming out of her forehead.
"I'm just glad I don't have brain damage or anything," Samantha said.
For the past three months, Samantha, a former drill team dancer, has been undergoing physical therapy, while wearing a leg brace with pins to support herself. Her goal from day one has been to be able to walk across the stage at her high school graduation.
"There's a lot of things I can't do, and it's going to take me, nothing permanent, but it's going to take me a long time to get back to normal," she said.
Samantha says she's learned her lesson the hard way, but it has given her a new sense of purpose.
"I didn't have a direction," she said. "I was like, yeah, I'm in college a year early, I'm doing great, I'm super-smart, you know. And I guess I just learned that, you know, at 17 years old, you can die, you can. You're not immortal. You can be struck down, real quick."
Tonight, Samantha not only celebrates finishing high school. She's celebrating her recovery and celebrating life. She crossed the stage to receive her diploma proudly.
"That's just the weird thing," she said. "God has a bigger purpose for me. And I got to figure it out."
Samantha already began taking college-level courses at Tyler Junior College this year because she finished high school early. She will continue her studies there this fall.
Julie Tam, reporting.
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