LONGMONT — Haley Shaw is determined to graduate from high school on time.
While many of her peers struggle to complete math or language arts credits, Shaw struggles just to get to school.
The 17-year-old adult-education student was in a one-car accident last July that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The former Ute Creek Secondary Academy student was driving down County Line Road near her home when the accident happened.
Shaw, who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle and sustained a spinal cord injury.
Although she doesn’t remember details of the accident, her mother, Helene Shaw, said the teen’s car could have malfunctioned or an animal could have run out in front of her, causing her to swerve, lose control and roll her car.
Since the accident, the determined senior has juggled physical and cognitive therapy at Craig Hospital in Englewood, numerous illnesses and visits to the emergency room with day-to-day challenges like getting up, getting dressed, getting to school and getting her homework done.
Her mother believes Haley’s life was spared because she was not wearing her seat belt. The rollover would have “snapped her neck because the whole roof crunched in and would have crushed her,” said Helene, a branch manager for Royal Crest Dairy.
Haley and her family pray for a cure for spinal cord injuries and keep apprised of the latest research.
Until a breakthrough happens, Haley will continue learning to do things a bit differently and trying to piece her life back together.
“I do have movement in one of my legs, which gives me hope that (use) could come back, but my doctors tell me it probably won’t,” Haley said. “I still have a little bit of hope.”
Before the accident, Haley dreamed of becoming a real estate agent after she graduated from high school. Now that she is in a wheelchair and can’t climb stairs to show homes, she has redirected her career interest to the medical field.
“I’m probably going to find a nursing program or go to college; I’m not sure yet what my options are,” Haley said.
Her interest in nursing came after her two-month stay at Craig. After all the procedures and therapy she’s been through, she said, she has a head start on other students who have never been intimately acquainted with the medical field.
Haley attends school two or three times a week for a few hours at a time.
Because of health issues related to her accident, such as a blood clot in her leg, she hasn’t attended as much as she would like.
“She works very hard and doesn’t get into school very often because she still has all kinds of health issues,” said adult-education teacher Janice Mandile. “She is in a wheelchair and has been in the emergency room a number of times because of infections and things.”
But the setbacks don’t stop Haley from trying to finish high school.
“She’s got a lot of spirit and really wants to tell people about spinal cord injuries,” Mandile said. “She’s written about hoping they will come up with some type of cure.”
Haley’s teacher added that the teen has just a couple of credits to earn to graduate, so she should have no problem graduating on time.
Haley recently went in for her six-month evaluation at Craig and has been instructed to learn how to drive a vehicle with hand controls.
“It’s very tough. You have to rethink your brain,” Helene said.
Haley’s family — especially her mom, dad and sister — and friends remain supportive, but her new best friend, Capone, a miniature greyhound/Chihuahua mix, has been a bright spot during a difficult few months.
“He keeps me company during the day. He is just the most wonderful thing in the world,” Haley said.
Her mother called her daughter “brave” and expressed her gratitude that the brain injury Haley sustained during the accident did not do any permanent damage.
“You need a strong mind; that’s what pulls you through,” Helene said. “You realize how strong your mind is when you don’t have legs.”
Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211, or by e-mail at email@example.com.