MONTGOMERY – Samantha Garcia brought her cane to her graduation ceremony, but the Kaneland High School student was determined to walk across the stage on her own Saturday – which she did – at the Convocation Center at Northern Illinois University.
“It was so nerve-racking,” she said. “Walking across the stage, and knowing that everyone is looking at you.”
It has been almost a year since Garcia, an 18-year-old Montgomery resident, was seriously injured in a car crash, less than a mile away from her home. Driving on Route 30, she veered off the road and lost control of her vehicle, rolling at least six times. She wasn’t speeding or texting, but she also wasn’t wearing a seat belt. She was ejected from her vehicle and landed on her right arm, which was severely injured. And she suffered brain trauma. Her future was uncertain, and her family has said at least one doctor said she might never open her eyes again.
Since then, the story has been Garcia’s recovery. At first, just moving and communicating were significant victories, but progress has been rapid since then. She was Kaneland’s homecoming queen and was able to return to classes. She will have to continue classes in the fall, but she was allowed to go through graduation with her classmates. This weekend, she will lead the Metal Walk at Harrah’s Casino, 151 N. Joliet St., Joliet, hosted by the ATI Foundation.
Garcia works twice a week at Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora as her rehabilitation continues. Monse Dominguez, a physical therapist with the Rush-Copley Outpatient Rehabilitation Therapy Center, said it was a goal for Garcia to walk across the stage for her graduation, and the Metal Walk is something else to work toward.
Dominguez said Garcia works hard and “her motivation is what really defines her.” Garcia had started running before the crash, running in a half-marathon, and Dominguez said, “I support her in wanting to have that goal of one day being able to do that again.”
The focus is on recovery. Dominguez said those at Rush-Copley were excited that Garcia was able to walk across the stage at her graduation, and they admire her ability to overcome the physical and mental obstacles that she’s encountered.
“We’re trying to make her as independent as possible,” Dominguez said.
Garcia’s mother, Lisa DeFranze, said graduation was “just a proud moment.” She has been with Garcia through it all, and she said Garcia’s memory is getting better, “but at times she will forget things.” Garcia has been working on walking without a cane, and DeFranze said they haven’t been bringing the cane on shopping trips.
There is no way to forget the crash. Because it’s so close to home, Garcia sees the road on a regular basis. DeFranze reached out to witnesses of the crash, and Garcia had an opportunity to meet with them.
“She was excited to get some questions answered,” DeFranze said. “She was just curious about how she landed, how many times the car flipped, what she looked like when they found her.”
It can be difficult when DeFranze must drive Garcia in the area. There are times, DeFranze said, when she might go a little off the road, and Garcia gets upset. Garcia said she has not thought about driving again.
“No … it scares me so much,” Garcia said. “I think about that. … It’s horrible. It seriously gets me in tears when she goes off the road. I remember that feeling, a lot.”