Each year, an estimated 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a brain injury. In fact, injury is the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 1 and 44.
That’s a statistic Maria Foster of Haughton never thought she would be part of.
She’s living proof that one person’s decision can lead to life-altering consequences.
Foster was 19-years-old when she was hit by an impaired driver in January 2016. She was driving home from work, as she did often, when another vehicle slammed into her.
“The other driver was drunk and high when they hit me,” Foster said. “Surprisingly, he was younger than I was. That really shocked me. I just assumed that since it was a drunk driver that they would be older than I was.”
The impact destroyed Foster’s car. She spent three weeks at LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and another three weeks at a rehab facility in New Orleans, where she relearned how to talk, eat and walk.
She went from being an independent teenager to depending on others for basic care in a matter of seconds.
“I was working, going to college and I lived by myself,” Foster said. “I couldn’t even shower by myself after the accident. My independence was taken away from me. Luckily, my mom was very supportive and helped me through it.”
Foster moved in with her mom and spent several more months in outpatient speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Two years after the accident, she’s still affected by her injuries. The right side of her body is permanently weak, but she was able to regain some of her strength.
Foster eventually went back to college and will graduate next month with a degree in field and organismal biology. She hopes to one day work in a zoo or wildlife refuge with big cats.
Foster also spends time sharing her story as a ThinkFirst VIP, or Voices for Injury Prevention. VIPs talk directly with students and serve as advocates for injury prevention.
“I want to use my story to help others and hopefully prevent this from happening to someone else,” she said. “People my age think they are invincible and it won’t happen to them. That’s what I thought, too. If I can convince just one person, that’s good enough for me.”
Founded in 1996, the Ark-La-Tex Chapter of ThinkFirst has shared injury prevention education with more than 206,000 children, youth and adults. Their programs cover driving safety, such as drunk and distracted driving, and general community safety education.
Shainne Williams, ThinkFirst program coordinator, said it all comes down to individual choices.
“Every choice you make matters,” Williams said. “Our speakers are real examples…all ages, races and demographics…that the choices someone else made changed their lives forever. They are the heart and soul of why we do what we do.”
Brain Injury Awareness Month is typically observed during March each year. However, ThinkFirst works year-round to raise awareness.
“It’s so simple…just think first,” Williams added.
ThinkFirst chapters provide injury prevention programs and presentations to schools and community groups free of charge. The local ThinkFirst office can be reached by phone at (318) 226-0066 or online at www.thinkfirstlouisiana.org.