The rock band, The Eagles, sang about “Life in the Fast Lane,” but Crista Hudson lived it. The 19-year-old from McCook, Neb., was a good student, but slowly drifted from her old friends during her junior year and began partying with a completely different peer group. She eventually dropped out of McCook High School near the end of her senior year. “I really had no focus in my life and was more out of control than in control,” said Crista.
One bad decision in the early hours of a winter morning brought Crista’s carefree life to a screeching halt. On Dec. 1, 2008, after drinking with friends, Crista got behind the wheel of her car. She set the cruise control at 85 mph and began the drive to her boyfriend’s house in Colby, Kan. Crista fell asleep at the wheel around 2 a.m., losing control of her vehicle and rolling it three times before landing upside down in a ditch. She lay trapped in her vehicle in the subzero temperature until 7 a.m., when two women passed the accident scene on their way to work and called 911.
Crista was lifeflighted to Swedish Medical Center in Denver, Colo., where it was determined she suffered from hypothermia, a fractured wrist and a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed. Metal plates were surgically placed in the young teen’s body, including her wrist, collarbone and neck.
Her mother, Wendy Brown, was at work when she got the news of Crista’s accident. Wendy wouldn’t learn the extent of her daughter’s injuries until she arrived at the hospital. “The accident changed our entire family’s life overnight,” Wendy shared. Crista remained in the Denver hospital until she gained enough strength to transition to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital on Jan. 7.
After the accident, Crista’s outlook on life changed. “I felt motivated to get my life back on track,” she said. Crista established therapy goals, but also, encouraged by her mom, set a goal to earn a high school diploma.
Crista had started working on her GED (General Educational Development), tests last summer in McCook. Nova Adams, therapeutic education coordinator at Madonna, got the ball rolling again for Crista by contacting the Nebraska State Department of Education. Crista devoted three Saturdays at Madonna to her final exams.
Vicki Bauer, state director of adult education, said Crista was a very determined young woman. According to Vicki, two of those Saturdays, Crista wasn’t feeling well physically, but insisted on finishing. “Crista’s final GED scores put her in what would be considered the top ten percent of her class,” Vicki stated. “Keep in mind, only 40 percent of seniors who attempt the GED pass it the first time,” added Vicki.
On Tuesday, March 3, Crista’s therapy team held a graduation ceremony, complete with music, cap, gown and cake. Vicki presented the diploma to her beaming student. “I had a lot of regrets about not graduating with my class, so this feels great!” shared Crista.
As her life shifts gears, Crista’s future looks bright. She scored a 26 on the ACT college entrance exam and plans to apply to Kansas State University. She’s also considering publicly sharing her story.
“If she could impact even one child, that would be enough,” said her mother. Crista says teens think they’re invincible. “I would give back all my partying to be able to walk again,” said Crista, her arms resting on her wheelchair. “The accident robbed a lot from me, but taught me what’s important in life.”