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TMCNet:  His story will move you: Don't drink and drive

[February 11, 2013]

His story will move you: Don't drink and drive

Feb 11, 2013 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A terrible drunken driving car wreck left then-22-year-old Sean Carter with a traumatic brain injury. He's slowly learning how to walk and talk again.

Now 30 years old -- his birthday was Jan. 11 -- Sean and his mom Jenny Carter are making a road trip to Odessa to share their gripping story. It's one they have shared with thousands over the years and around the country.

"(You) will see this persona from Sean of hope and faith and happiness that you wouldn't expect from someone trapped in their body," Jenny said Friday by phone from a town 40 miles north of Tyler. They recently moved from Dallas to Winnsboro, where they're among good friends who supported them following the car crash.

On March 27, 2005, in Wichita Falls, the lives of the Carter family changed forever. Sean was a passenger in a truck that was being driven by a Midwestern State University friend who was drunk. Five minutes after leaving Sean's apartment, the driver lost control and the truck spun and slammed into a tree. Sean suffered multiple fractures, internal injuries and a traumatic brain injury, leaving him unable to walk and talk. He does not, however, have any mental deficiencies.

Since the wreck, he's undergone 20 major surgical procedures, has 30 scars and 18 pieces of metal in his body. Sean's medical expenses exceeded $1 million within the first three years alone. His story is shared as part of the Texas Department of Transportation's drunken driving campaign to educate the public on its dangers.

Using a computer to communicate doesn't hinder Sean's sunny disposition. Just this week, a cable technician stopped by the Carter's new home and Sean wasn't talking much, only observing.

"The cable guy goes, 'He has such a presence about him, a shine about him. He's a special guy,'" Jenny said.

Before the accident, Sean was pursuing modeling in New York City on time off from studying at Midwestern State University. Jenny said all of her three sons -- she and Sean's father divorced 20 years ago; he died last year -- were pretty quiet and laid back young men, but Sean now can initiate relationships much easier.

"He once told me, 'When you have been through as much as I have been through, nothing is hard anymore,'" Jenny said.

Since the wreck, Jenny says their faith in God has grown.

"It's been the only way we made it through. The only way we could have made it through," she said. God's presence has been obvious many times in their lives -- to think that Sean can't talk, but he's a public speaker. "Where did that come from How it all worked out ... it is God's plan," she said.

The Carters started their nonprofit organization WhenSeanSpeaks Inc. to promote and fund the speaking engagements and to fund research on traumatic brain injury patients. The plan is to partner with University of Texas Southwest and open a gym/training facility for people with traumatic brain injuries.

Sean once spent 20 weeks undergoing physical therapy and left the program able to walk with a cane. Exercise oxygenates the blood, which flows to the brain, not to mention the repetition of exercise helps with brain function.

"Once insurance runs out and once a survivor gets to a certain point ... many lose hope, many become recluses. Our vision is to provide a place of hope," she said.

As for the message they will share at First Baptist Church in Odessa on Feb. 20 (they will talk to students at Permian and Odessa high schools as well), the Carters express the seriousness of a flippant decision to get behind the wheel of a car drunk, or riding with a drunk driver. The Pilot Club of Odessa is sponsoring the presentation.

"What happened to Sean was very preventable," Jenny said, mentioning that she prefers to call it a car "crash" over an "accident." "It didn't have to happen. The choices he made the night of the crash, if he had not made the choice to get so drunk, to get in the vehicle with a drunk driver, it would have not happened," she said.

In 2007, Jenny and Sean embarked on this journey of public speaking and even after telling the story again and again, it never becomes routine.

"Different parts of the story hit me in the gut at different times," Jenny said. At the end of the storytelling, the audience is invited to ask questions, some of which have made Jenny cry.

"Or when children come up afterward and hug me and tell their personal story," she said. "It's never-ever routine." Told live, their story is arresting. The two-line "takeaway" is applicable to challenges of every kind.

"We act like normal people and we want other families to let go of their grief. The only way to survive is to live life," Jenny said.

--Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.

___ (c)2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) Visit the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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