One year later, the memories are still vivid for Cami Abernethy.
“I fell first, and the thing I think I remember most is Alissa’s [Boyle] fall and her talking to me,” Abernethy said.
It’s been just a little over a year since the two 2012 Waynesburg University nursing graduates were seriously injured when they jumped off an overpass on Interstate 79 just north of Mt. Morris to avoid an oncoming tractor trailer after they stopped to help a man trapped in his car during a car accident.
The students were traveling southbound on I-79 at 6:10 a.m. on Feb. 20, 2012, to attend clinical studies at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., when the incident that changed their lives forever occurred.
“My life changed in the blink of an eye,” Boyle said. “I left for clinical that morning thinking it was just going to be a normal Monday, never once thinking that my life would be forever changed.”
The accident left Boyle initially paralyzed. Abernethy suffered fractured vertebrae and metal rods had to be surgically inserted into her back. Boyle’s doctor told her she had a one percent chance of ever walking again, and she set out to prove him wrong.
“I believe that nothing is impossible,” Boyle said. “You just have to keep believing and pushing yourself to never give up.”
Neither woman did give up. Both have made serious progress since that February morning. Abernethy recovered faster than expected and was off her pain medicine just a few months after the accident.
“I’m pretty much back to, I think, as close to normal as I’ll get,” Abernethy said.
Her recovery has progressed so well, in fact, her doctor decided to leave the metal rods in rather than risk having surgery to shorten them and face complications or infection.
Boyle’s recovery isn’t as fast as she would like it to be, but she said she is improving.
The recovery process hasn’t been without its challenges. Everyday activities people take for granted were challenges for Abernethy and Boyle.
“I couldn’t even get my food because I couldn’t lift a gallon of milk and that sort of thing,” Abernethy said.
Boyle, too, had difficulty dressing herself and other simple tasks. Her wheelchair added an extra challenge.
“A lot of sidewalks are hard to go on, especially when they don’t have a ramp,” she said.
On busy days, Abernethy gets home from work and may be sore or have a stiff back, but once she lies down, her pain normally subsides.
“I have my days where I just want to lay in bed all day,” Boyle said. “I don’t let myself because I want to reach my goal and I want to walk again and I am determined to do so.”
Boyle and Abernethy both completed their required coursework to graduate; Abernethy finished in August and Boyle finished in October. Both passed their board exams to become nurses.
After becoming a registered nurse, Abernethy began working in a neo-natal intensive care unit at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh. She said it’s worked out perfectly for her because the beds come up to her height so she doesn’t have to bend over, which would cause back pain.
Boyle is still figuring out what she wants to do professionally. Right now, her main focus is therapy and, after that, driving. She has considered going back to school to specialize in spinal cord injuries.
“A spinal cord injury is a lot more than just somebody not being able to move their legs,” Boyle said. “I have learned so much this past year and I want to help people that are going through the same thing I am.”
Abernethy also considers advancing her career, but that’s down the road for her. More immediate in their future, though, are wedding bells.
Both women are getting married this year. Boyle is working to strengthen her quadriceps so that she can walk – with her knees unlocked – down the aisle.
All of the support that Abernethy and Boyle received has helped to make a difference.
“It was really unbelievable to see how much support we got, you know, even if it was just from family or from people we didn’t know,” Abernethy said.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for all they have done to help us,” Boyle said. “I honestly wouldn’t have made it through this without the love and support from my family, friends, the community and everyone at Waynesburg University.”
“It just shows you, you know, you’re not just a number,” she said.
“If we went to a big school, no one would probably have even known. But since we come from such a close community, it was such an outpouring of love and support.”
After that life-changing day, their faith was strengthened.
“You realize that you’re meant to be here for a reason,” Abernethy said. “And that you need to do good in life and that there are still some really good people in this world.”
“I must believe,” Boyle said, “that God does have an amazing plan for my life.”