You’re in the bar. You’re drinking. You fall asleep in your car with your friend.
You wake up. You’re bleeding and you can’t feel or see your legs.
You wake up again and touch your forehead because you think it’s bleeding. You look at your hand and it’s covered in blood. Was your hand bleeding?
You come to again. The lights of the hospital ceiling rush past as you stare straight up. You can’t move.
You can’t breathe. There is a tube in your throat and it is choking you. You try to talk but you can’t find the words.
“I just had a bad feeling. Like a gut feeling that something bad was going to happen and I didn’t really want to go out,” Brynna Carper said. “She kept pressuring me and pressuring me, so finally I fell into the peer pressure.”
A little over a year ago, Brynna Carper was a regular college senior at Castleton University. Her priorities were class, work, friends — and her future.
Three days after her 23rd birthday, she was out partying in Burlington with one of her childhood friends.
What happened that night would change her life forever.
“She has this brilliant plan, which was how she convinced me to go out. It was to sleep in the car,” she said.
Carper was nervous and thought it would be too cold. Her friend pitched the idea to snuggle up with a bunch of pillows and blankets. Reluctantly, she agreed.
After a wild night and a few too many drinks, they both returned to the car. Carper in the driver side, and her friend in the passenger side.
“I remember her saying, ‘Brynna, it’s so cold. You have to drive,’” Carper said. “I was so mad. I was like, ‘it was your plan to sleep in the car, we’re sleeping in the car.’”
She fell asleep and the next time she woke up, she was in the passenger’s seat and her friend was in the driver’s seat of her car. They were on their way home when her friend fell asleep at the wheel and crashed the car into a telephone pole.
The friend didn’t have a license.
“When I got to the scene of the accident, I remember screaming, ‘They’re lying! She can’t be alive! The car looks like nobody survived that!’” Carper’s stepmother Shana Hobbs said.
Carper was the only one gravely injured with two broken legs, a broken arm, and a severe concussion.
The engine was pushed up into her lap in the crash and they had to cut her out with the jaws of life after an hour of coming in and out of consciousness.
“I started to panic, like I’m going to lose my legs,” Carper said, “And all I could think about was, I’m going to lose my legs way up at the hip. I’m going to have no legs.”
While lucky to be alive, the CU senior was left with years of physical recovery, and a lifetime of emotional recovery.
“She had a positive attitude, but she’s also feisty. I saw that fight in her,” said Joyce Skelly, Carper’s boss at Hannaford Supermarket.
Doctors weren’t sure she’d walk again, or at least walk normally. But within six months, not only was she walking – she was back at work.
“The recovery process was long and exhausting. Brynna was in the hospital for a week and then spent two more weeks in rehab learning to get around as best she could,” said Mike Carper, her father. “She spent the next four months at home in a wheelchair waiting for her legs to heal before she could even begin to learn to walk again.”
With all of this recovery time and with the accident happening just two weeks into her last semester, she knew she wasn’t going to be graduating that year. However, school was the least of her worries at that time.
“At this point, I still wasn’t quite ready to think about school because I knew I had such a far road ahead of me,” Carper said.
“It was irritating. Like they want me to sign up for another semester? I could have been done by now,” she said.
Her doctors and counselors suggested that she take an entire year off because of difficulty walking, more surgeries planned and her post-concussion syndrome that causes her to forget commonly known things.
“It kind of makes you a little bit numb,” she said about the post-concussion syndrome. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘oh I just don’t care,’ when before it was like, ‘I’ve got to get this done. I need that A,’ and now I’m like, ‘ehh I could get a B and I’ll be fine.’”
After the accident her life was really put into perspective.
“I’m alive. That’s how I really feel. Woah. I really have a second chance here,” Carper said, “I want to live.”
While Carper’s life was changed forever, it also affected the lives of her family. What they all want most is for her to have learned something from it, and for others to learn from hearing her story.
“Use better judgment in their lives,” Mike Carper said giving advice to his daughter and others. “On New Year ’s Day, I discovered that Brynna had been going to Burlington drinking every weekend and driving home. I told her that if she continued this behavior it was going to end one of three ways; she would be arrested, dead or in the hospital. She just laughed and acted like I was ridiculous. Now she says she hates it that I am always right!”
Her stepmother had similar advice.
“Always have a good, concrete plan when your plans involve alcohol and never hesitate when in a real bind, regardless of the time of day, to ask parents, or any other caring family member or friend for transportation to get back home safely,” Hobbs said.
Although the accident is in the past, Carper deals with daily reminders of what happened. From the scar on her forehead to the limp in her step, it is clear that this will be in her heart and mind forever.
“I didn’t mean to get so drunk to where I wasn’t even in control of my own body and my friend had to babysit me,” Carper said, “But it happened. And it happened with the wrong friend.”
Carper had advice to give as well.
“I just feel like so many kids think they’re invincible and it absolutely can happen to you,” She said, “No matter what. It can happen to you.”
During the recovery process, Carper kept a positive attitude and tried every single day to improve as quickly as she could.
Her goal was to walk again and although she took one stair at a time, she walked her way to our interview, just like she will walk down the isle in the pavilion for graduation in May.