06/05/05 — Aycock graduate still battling back after two crashes

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Aycock graduate still battling back after two crashes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 5, 2005 2:02 AM

Amanda Thigpen is starting to get a little stir crazy having to sit around all day while her classmates are enjoying their last summer before college.

Family and friends are more patient, painfully aware that only a month ago she and her friend, Cynthia Hubbell, lay unconscious for almost a week at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville following a car accident. Amanda says she remembers none of that.

"I don't remember the accident, I don't remember half the things I said in the hospital," she says now. "They haven't even shown me a picture of the accident."

She says she can't even recall events of the day leading up the crash that happened at the intersection of N.C. 581 and Nahunta Road around 5:20 p.m. May 2.

"I know where we were going," she said, "to get white dresses in Smithfield to wear for graduation."

The Charles B. Aycock High School seniors were critically injured after their car was struck on the driver's side by a tractor-trailer truck as they pulled into traffic. Both girls had to be cut from the vehicle and taken by helicopter to Greenville.

Amanda was a passenger in the car. Among her injuries were a fractured pelvis, several skull fractures and some bleeding on the brain, a broken collarbone and four broken ribs that later caused her to have a punctured lung.

Cynthia was traveling with her family and could not be reached for comment. Amanda listed some of her friend's injuries as a broken pelvic bone, a broken arm and some bleeding on the brain.

Both were in intensive care. For six days, Amanda was unconscious and on a ventilator. She woke up Saturday, May 7, the day before Mother's Day, says grandmother Edith Colmore.

Altogether, Amanda was hospitalized for 12 days, while Cynthia was released nearly a week earlier.

Mrs. Colmore can fill in the gaps of those first days, as she and Amanda's mother, Donna Thigpen, anxiously awaited the outcome of the teens' lives.

"We could go in for 15 minutes every two hours," except overnight, Mrs. Colmore said. The first night they slept in a waiting room; thereafter, they stayed at a Ronald McDonald House nearby.

"Sometimes when we would talk to her, we'd tell her, 'If you hear us, squeeze our hand...' but we never knew if she could really hear us."

Amanda's first memory was the day she woke up in ICU.

"I had to go to the bathroom," she says. "I yelled for a nurse, then decided to get up and go by myself. I fell."

She says she knew she was in the hospital but wasn't sure why, but vaguely connected it to the accident.

A steady stream of visitors joined the family as they kept vigil at the hospital, Mrs. Colmore said, including Cynthia, returning after she was released. Many classmates also traveled to Greenville but, unable to see their friends, found other ways to convey concern.

At Aycock, banners were signed by students and brought to the hospital. Amanda says when she arrived home later, her living room was filled with flowers, balloons and stuffed animals. Her father, Al Thigpen of Grantham, painted a large "welcome home" sign and put it in her front yard.

Mrs. Colmore's church, Adamsville Baptist, activated prayer chains, as did other area churches.

"A lot of preachers came to the hospital and prayed for her," she said. "A lot of people came to the lobby and just sat with the family."

An outpouring of support, including financially, also came from many who knew Amanda's mother, who is the manager at Central Lunch in downtown Goldsboro. Donna Thigpen has been out of work since the accident, returning on Wednesday.

In her absence, oldest daughter Alicia managed the restaurant. There is also a younger daughter, Laura, 16.

Mrs. Thigpen said she has run a gamut of emotions since the accident. Now she finds herself relieved that her daughter is alive and grateful to all who sustained her through it.

"I want to thank the community for all their thoughts and prayers and phone calls," she said. "I appreciate everybody's help and concern."

The accident was particularly poignant, happening less than a month after her daughter was involved in another car accident and less than a month before she was to graduate from high school.

Amanda was driving to school with younger sister Laura on the morning of April 6. It was very foggy, she recalled, and they were only a short distance from their home on Nahunta Road, when her car struck the rear end of an elementary school bus. There were no injuries to students on the bus, but Amanda broke her knee and Laura injured her knee and received some facial cuts.

The latest accident aggravated Amanda's knee injury. She says she is still "a little wobbly" and has some dizziness, so continues to use a wheelchair.

Both Amanda and Cynthia were in wheelchairs for graduation ceremonies last weekend. There is still some work to complete and exams to be taken before receiving diplomas, but Amanda, ranked number 22 in her class, was allowed to wear the sashes earned for being an honor student, in the National Honor Society, and an N.C. Scholar.

She hopes to attend Wayne Community College in the fall, with aspirations of becoming an elementary school teacher.

For now, she is recuperating at her grandparents' home near Elroy. She had her first outing earlier this week, accompanying friends to Target, without the wheelchair, but with a one-hour time limit.

Amanda says she received several calls during and after the shopping trip, her mother and grandparents checking up on her.

"She is very easy-going," her grandmother says, "but she called me and her mom 'stalkers' for calling her.

"She doesn't realize where she's been and how far she's come."

Amanda agrees. "I wasn't awake for the hard part," she says.

She admits she gets frustrated by her limitations, felt some anger at having to miss the last month of her senior year, and says that "it drives me nuts that I can't do the things I could easily before." But she is also grateful.

"I thank God that I have such a good family," she says. "Everybody really supported me."

In a letter to the News-Argus on behalf of the family, stepmother Sheila Thigpen credits the community and prayer chains reaching as far away as Italy with providing the fighting spirit needed to help the family endure.

"In today's world with all the hustle, bustle and limited time of everyday life, we were shown when there is a need, people will set aside their precious time to pray and think of others," she wrote.