When Khalia Carter found herself in the hospital after a serious car accident on April 18, she told her mother about a new life goal: Get to her high school graduation, just a month away.
Carter, 18 years old and a varsity cheer captain at Fort Myers High School in Florida, suffered a traumatic brain injury and mobility and speech troubles after the accident. She was on her way home from a busy day in April when she was rear-ended by a motorcyclist who was suspected to be drunk.
“I felt a big crash and my car was spinning and I couldn’t control it,” Carter told Good Morning America. “I couldn’t control the wheel. I couldn’t press the gas or the brake. Nothing was working.”
“We’re so glad Khalia is here with us today,” her sister, Timesha Carter, told WFTX-TV.
Though she survived, her injuries meant she had to relearn how to do daily activities, including how to walk and feed herself. As her recovery began, Carter kept up with her many therapy appointments — including an hour a day of occupational and physical therapy, plus half an hour of speech at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital — by setting daily goals for her progress. All the while, she focused on her graduation. Then she had a bigger idea.
“After I was getting stronger every day, I decided maybe it’d be surprising if I shocked everybody and walked across the stage, and why not?” Carter told GMA.
Though she couldn’t walk immediately after the accident, Carter persevered, moving from a wheelchair to a walker to walking independently. Her recovery process also involved overcoming a sensitivity to noise and light and coordinating head and eye movements for balance. She had to practice stepping over objects and climbing stairs.
But it all paid off in the end. Sure enough, Carter walked across the stage at the graduation ceremony and accepted her diploma in front of the huge crowd.
This image of her at graduation on May 26 was posted to Facebook by her mother Shawnda Cook, who has been documenting her journey on Facebook.
“I was just excited,” Carter told WFTX. “Not really nervous. I just wanted to do it by myself and that’s all.”
“Khalia, even on the weekends, Khalia got up,” said Cook to WFTX. “She did all her exercises and she deserves this. She deserves every bit of this.”
Now that she’s nailed her graduation goal, Carter’s setting her sights on the future. She hopes to be ready to go to Georgia Southern University in the fall and have her sisters help decorate her dorm room.
In a video she posted to YouTube, the young woman discusses the accident and its effects, including the anxiety she now experiences, and how she is working to overcome it.
“I’m still trying to progress because if I want to go to college … I need to get back to my normal life. I’m going to be going far,” she said in the video.