For Passenger in Drunken-Driving Crash, Healing is ‘Forever-Long Journey’

Fourteen years after barely surviving a drunken-driving crash in which he was a passenger, Sean Carter of College Station, TX, still closes his emails with the words, “I will talk. I will walk again.” And if you’ve ever met Sean, you wouldn’t bet against it.

He was 22 and a college junior thinking about law school on March 27, 2005, when he got into a pickup driven by a buddy—both had been drinking. It was a rainy night, and the truck hit a tree, leaving Sean with multiple fractures, internal injuries and a diffuse axonal brain injury (DAI) … translation: extremely serious. When he came out of a coma after 39 days, Sean was unable to speak or walk.

That’s the story of what happened to Sean, but he prefers to focus on what has happened since the accident. Using an app that speaks the words he types on his iPad, he said, “The situation I put myself in sucks, without a doubt. Sometimes life just happens, and there is no way to go back in time to change what happened. All you can do is move forward.”

Sean’s rigorous program of exercise over the past decade has continued to increase his dexterity and mobility, beyond what had been imagined with the severity of his traumatic brain injury.

And he has. For the first five years after the crash, Sean needed help from his mom, Jenny, with just about everything. (Although his spinal cord is intact, Sean’s brain injury affected his mobility as well as his speech.) But in 2010, he participated in a research project at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, to measure the effects of rigorous exercise on patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

There has been no short-cut to results, and Jenny remains her son’s full-time caregiver. But improvements over time have added up to amazing. Sean continues to work out, strenuously, in his home gym, at least four times a week. He now transfers himself in and out of bed, and showers and brushes his teeth independently, among many other daily-living tasks he previously had been unable to do. In 2015, he traded his wheelchair for a walker, which was a really big deal.

Sean said, “It took 10 years to get rid of my wheelchair. My walker is so big that tight spaces are still pretty impossible to move around in, but I am able to be on my feet. Improving my physical body and building muscle has been painstakingly slow, but as long as I’m progressing forward, I am able to stay pretty positive and find hope for a brighter future.”

With that bright future in mind, Sean and Jenny are living with hope and happiness in the present. “Our life is a good life,” Jenny said. “My son still can’t talk; my son has a hard time walking, but we live a really good, happy life.”

Sources of happiness and hope for Jenny and Sean include their faith—”We could not have gone through this without believing in God,” Jenny said—and being able to give back to a community that has held them close for so many years.

Giving back, which has been an important part of Jenny and Sean’s healing process, started about two years after the accident. They were asked by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) to share Sean’s story of actions and consequences with those who had been convicted of Driving Under the Influence.

Sean Carter

Being able to once again run his hand through his hair is a hard-won gesture for Sean. He said, “Little by little, I am able to put pieces back together of my physical body, with the help of my Mom and my faith in God. They both help comfort me when I am down. I get down at times, but it’s only for a moment. I know I am still improving.”

Despite being a public speaker who can’t speak—a joke Sean tells on himself—his message of hope and healing resonates strongly with audiences.  By 2010, their speaking engagements had evolved into the nonprofit WhenSeanSpeaks, Inc.

Jenny and Sean now make about about 60 presentations a year to student and community groups across Texas, through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, a statewide educational outreach program. They have also had opportunities to speak in 11 other states, through private engagements. Sharing their experience with an estimated 250,000 people over the years has helped mother and son make meaning out of tragedy.

In Sean’s CaringBridge Journal, which Jenny described as “my lifeline when I had nothing to hold onto,” she wrote, “We hope that through the expression of our emotions and thoughts about the choices that were made to get us here, we can help prevent others from sharing our consequences.”

For his part, Sean intends to keep on talking … everywhere, and with everyone. To increase visibility, he is writing a book with the help of a friend—a rough draft is in-process—about his “forever-long journey.” He said, “It would be so awesome to speak to huge audiences … to help other young people from making the same mistake I made, of getting into a vehicle driven by a drunk driver.”

Sean also thinks it would be awesome to travel to speaking engagements in a motor coach, vs. the extended-cab pickups Jenny has driven over the years. Sean said, “I am unable to help my Mom haul our luggage into hotels. A motor coach would allow us to sleep in our own beds and have everything we need.”

He smiled as his typed words turned into speech: “That’s just a dream, but everything starts with a dream.”

Comments (15)

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Sandy Nov 23, 2019 8:46am
Hello, I had goosebumps throughout your entire story. Your mothers perseverance and determination to help you build a home, a future is incredibly moving. You are an amazing man and I wish you all the love, courage, and most importantly; all of lifes greatest gifts! ❤🙏 Sandy
Suzie Nov 20, 2019 6:18am
Hi from Chester, Virginia. My cousin is on Caring Bridge dealing with Cancer. I found your post & was so inspired by your courage & faith. May God bless you & continue to inspire you. Bless your mom , Jenny. For a mother's love is endless, as Jesus's mother Mary gave us all an example to live by. I may never meet you but Sean u will be forever in my heart & prays. What a fine young man !
peta-ann a delsonno Nov 16, 2019 9:33pm
keep going sean... You are AMAZING. Words seem so empty to compared to someone like you who is giving their all just to be alive and keeping on going day after day after. You are loved..... and I am so proud of you Lotsa love Peta 🧡🧡
JoNell VanFleet Nov 03, 2019 8:33am
What a blessing you two are to the world. Loved meeting you at Mountain High! God bless you both and Sean I can already see you in the beautiful coach! Keep on believing. You're a child of the king!!
Deb Whitcomb PA-C Nov 02, 2019 11:20pm
A tragedy that continues to demonstrate the resiliency of the human spirit to triumph in the midst of overwhelming obstacles .. Sean & Jenny your love is palpable . Write the book, make the documentary and receive the motor coach, Kudos for truly living your lives to the fullest . Keep Dreamin Big! Grateful for the opportunity to read your story looking forward to the book. Be well & stay steady Deb Whitcomb
Sue Ragsdale Nov 02, 2019 5:58pm
Sean and Jenny are such an inspiration for kids making their own choices. The photo of Sean being able to run his fingers through his hair shows what great progress he is making since we first saw him.
Patricia Canfield Jul 22, 2019 2:32am
Sean, thank you and your mother Jen for sharing your story of life, and how you have live it and helped so many others in the process. I just recently fell and hit my head i had to have brain surgery to stop the bleeding and they accidentally severed a muscle and nerve in my head during the procedure. I now have serios problems with my facial parts jaws,cheeks,gums, lips, tounge, chin, forehead and the left eye and my left temporal sunken in appx. 2 inches and my jaw bone has permanently swollen. And my speech has been affected also. At times i get angry for what happened but reading your story has really brought me some peace. I thank you for that and i pray that you continue to heal and grow on leaps and bounds. God bless you and Jen, and again thank you so much. Peace & Love, Patricia Canfield
Ann Nadeau Jun 21, 2019 1:33pm
You are truly an inspiration to me, I am crying as I write this. I had a TBI in 2010 which ruined my life. They didn't think I would live, but I beat the odds. Had to learn to walk and talk again, Have hour long seizures and two brain anuerisums from the injury but the good Lord has a plan for me. I have no family close, the closest relative is over 2000 miles away I get less than $800 a month to live on. And yes I worked all my life . Sometimes I wish I would have just died. But then I pull my head out of my butt and thank God for saving me. And appreciate every breath I take and enjoy every little thing most people don't even take time to see or enjoy. Because you never know it could end in a split second. I help who ever I can and thank god. And know it's a great day when I read the paper and my name is not listed in the obituaries. Thank you and keep up the fight you are definitely a great inspiration. God bless you your in my prayers. Annie Nadeau
Jerrod Kostmayer Apr 28, 2019 8:58pm
you can do're a living miracle! Many prayers..much love!
Jeanne Jensen Apr 28, 2019 1:20pm
great job Sean, quite the journey I am sure, I commend you strength and energy. Good luck with your long-lasting recover, you are a very special man!
Laura Hough Apr 05, 2019 4:51pm
the journey you are on is a most difficult one but I can see you have tackled it with faith and tremendous hard work. God bless you and your mom as you live the life you work every day to improve. My husband and I too have been on a 12 year journey since a very bad leukemia whose stem cell transplant to cure has taken his lungs and hips, and lots of other smaller things. But we too are working through it with faith in God. Keep working forward Sean. You are a young man who has time on your side. Your story is inspiring.
Amanda Thomas Apr 05, 2019 4:19am
Sending lots of Dreams Coming True to you and your Mom! My oldest daughter Taylor was hit by a drunk driver on 1/1/19 and you both have the same TBI. It’s been a rough go but I get to bring her home with me to heal together & be her caregiver on 4/15/19!!! Its def the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life and I can only imagine what she feels daily. We will be alright tho, I can feel it! Anyways, hope you get your RV Soon! Peace & Love 💜 Amanda Thomas & Taylor Pattison Sparks, Nevada
Nestor D. Bunda Mar 20, 2019 1:02am
Hello Sean! I imagine the infectious smile in your face as a mighty symbol of a strong faith and an intense hope. I still fervently pray that someday I will clearly hear your voice and will see you walking and will hug each other, smiling and laughing. Blessings my friend, Nestor
SANDRA ANDERSON Mar 19, 2019 3:49pm
I am so glad you are now in Aggie land. We Aggies are so happy to have you among us. Sandra Anderson, Pilot Club of Bay City.
Stephen K Chock Mar 17, 2019 9:36am
You look and sound great, Sean, and Jenny...still speaking words of hope through your journey of labor, love, and perseverance. Godspeed, and stay in touch!!! -Stephen Chock