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Two years after her crippling automobile accident, Celena Miner is living on her own.
Last year at this time, Celena Miner went through graduation exercises with her classmates at Rangely High School.
Two years ago around this same time, her life was changed in an instant.
Miner was driving home from Vernal, Utah, on May 13, 2008, when her car went off the road. Her younger brother Micheal was with her.
Three weeks later, Celena woke up … and she couldn’t move.
“I remember trying to get somebody’s attention, and I couldn’t move,” said Celena, who had been in a drug-induced coma. “My mom told me what happened. She told me I had broken my neck. Then she started crying, and I started crying.”
Now, two years later, Celena, 19, lives alone in an apartment across from the Radino Center in Rangely, which she moved into Oct. 1. Living on her own gives her a measure of independence she hadn’t had since the accident. But, as a quadriplegic, she depends on others for help with many ordinary tasks.
“I’ve basically come to terms with it now,” said Celena, who is paralyzed from the chest down. “At first, it was hard to accept.
“Before the wreck, I was completely independent and now, basically, I have to depend on people for everything,” Celena said. “It’s terrible. But that’s how my life works now, so I just have to deal with it.”
Not that she doesn’t have bad days. She just doesn’t have them as often as she used to.
“There were a lot of times … that it was really hard to come to terms with, and I would wonder if I could start my life again, but I got better about it,” Celena said. “There are still times, though, when I get depressed or upset.”
After the accident, doctors told Celena to expect there would be dark thoughts come into her mind, even thoughts of suicide.
“They told me those thoughts would happen,” she said. “I didn’t believe them, but they started coming into my head. I talked to my mom about it and she helped me with it.”
“She is on antidepressants and probably will be for the rest of her life,” her mom, Betsy Miner, said.
Celena continues to deal with health issues on a regular basis, the result of the accident.
“The health issues, they come and go,” she said. “They’ve been happening off and on since the wreck.”
A week ago today was the two-year anniversary of the accident.
“The first year was a bigger deal, because I was still struggling about coming to terms with it all,” Celena said. “This time, my friend Racheal (Drake) came over and woke me up. I had ended up sleeping in late. She asked me how I was doing and I just completely lost it.”
“We planned to go up to the scene of the wreck,” Drake said. “After I got off work, I went over and talked to her and she started getting emotional. She just broke down, then I broke down. So we just stayed home and ate ice cream and watched TV together.”
Celena’s brother Micheal, who was 14 at the time, came through the accident with only minor injuries, though he still suffers from a blind spot in one eye.
“He says he remembers the accident. He was awake, holding my hand, telling me not to cry and that help would be there soon,” Celena said.
Afterward, Micheal thought Celena had died.
“He thought Celena was dead and no one was telling him about it,” Betsy Miner said. “He thought that was why I was going to Grand Junction, to make funeral arrangements for her.”
Actually, Betsy was en route to St. Mary’s Hospital. That’s when she got the news about Celena.
“They told me that she had broken her neck,” Betsy Miner said.
For Celena, the accident is pretty much a blur.
“I can remember bits and pieces, but I don’t remember anything from the wreck,” she said.
Celena’s long-term memory is sketchy now, too.
“My entire life before the wreck is hard to remember,” she said. “It’s really cloudy. I’ll get together with my family and start talking about things from the past and everyone else will remember it, but I don’t, and they’ll say I used to remember it. It’s hard to remember anything before the wreck anymore.”
Neither Celena nor Micheal were wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
“I was always the one who made people put on a seat belt when they got in the car, but we hadn’t been wearing seat belts that day,” Celena said. “I don’t know why.”
There are times for Celena, when it is still hard to believe what happened.
“I think it’s just a dream, or I will wake up any minute, but it never happens,” she said. “You know, when you get those bad dreams and you just want to wake up. It’s like one of those.”
On April 20, Celena and her mom took part in a program at Rangely Junior/Senior High School that was intended to encourage students to make good choices, like wearing a seat belt or not drinking and driving.
The night before the presentation, Roy Kinney, Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s investigator, showed Celena photographs of her car that had been taken at the accident scene. It was the first time she had seen the images.
“I had always thought I wanted to see pictures of my car. I thought it would like give me closure about the whole thing,” she said. “I had always imagined what the car would look like, but when I saw the pictures, what I had imagined was nowhere close to what the car looked like. I immediately buried my face in my mom’s shoulder. It was really hard to look at.”
Celena hopes her message to Rangely students, many of them who came up to her afterward to greet her or say thanks, makes them think.
“I feel like it should be known how a life can change in the blink of an eye,” she said. “You don’t realize how quickly it could all end, until something like this happens to you.”
Just going out in public, let alone appearing in front of a crowd of people, can be an uncomfortable experience for Celena, who is confined to a wheelchair. But she overcame her fear.
“It scares me, speaking in front of a whole lot of people,” she said. “But afterward, kids came up and thanked me and said it hit home with them. That made me feel good, like maybe I saved a few lives.”
Celena and her family have grown even closer to each other since the accident. And she enjoys spending time with friends, like Racheal Drake, though some of the friends Celena used to have, before the accident, she doesn’t hear from anymore.
“It’s weird,” she said. “There are a lot of them … I don’t talk to hardly anyone anymore. So now I’ve made new friends. Now I only hang out with one or two people.”
Since that fateful day in May two years ago, life has gone on. Celena has a new boyfriend. Her younger sister, Paulla, will graduate from Rangely Senior High on Sunday and plans to move to Oregon. And Celena intends to start college classes at Colorado Northwestern Community College in the fall.
“There are ups and downs,” she said. “But I feel good.”
And she clings to the hope that someday, she may walk again.
“Doctors said, since her spinal cord wasn’t severed, there’s a chance her body could respond and put itself back together, and there’s also a chance with surgery,” Betsy Miner said. “One doctor said that as young as she is, there’s a chance she’ll see (an advancement in medical) science during her lifetime. We have to hold on to hope.”
Celena’s friend Racheal Drake agreed.
“We all have wishful thinking,” Drake said. “That’s what keeps all of us going.”
It’s that faith and hope that keeps Celena going.
“Faith and hope are two really important things to me right now,” Celena said. “I keep thinking if lose faith or lose hope, I won’t walk again. That it won’t happen.
“They’ve said I’ve still got a 50-50 chance of walking again on my own,” Celena said. “It’s hard to keep faith that it’s still possible for me to walk again. But my mom is always there to remind me that I have to keep faith.”