May 09, 2013 12:00AM
Friends and family will cheer for Samantha Anderson Friday when she walks across the stage at Pittsburg State University’s 110th commencement exercises to receive her bachelor’s of fine arts degree. But as she prepares for the big day, Anderson looks back at another day, six months earlier, when her life and her future hung in the balance.
Samantha, her husband, Shawn, both Bartlesville, Okla., natives, were on their way to do some Christmas shopping on Dec. 7, 2012, when their lighthearted trip turned tragic. Suddenly, on a bridge south of Pittsburg, they faced a car attempting to pass others at a high rate of speed.
In a time warp of split seconds that seemed like an eternity, Samantha remembers asking Shawn, “Is he going to hit us?”
“Yes,” Shawn answered as the two cars met.
The driver of the oncoming car died in the explosive impact. Miraculously everyone in Anderson’s car survived, although Shawn had head injuries and Samantha suffered a broken pelvis and shattered vertebrae. Shawn was treated in Joplin for his injuries and Samantha was flown to Kansas City where doctors repaired her pelvis and fused her spine.
Despite his injuries, Samantha said, Shawn was able to make it to Kansas City to be by her side for her surgeries.
Out of danger, but facing many weeks of recovery, Samantha said she was not depressed.
“I was ticked off,” Samantha said. “I’m a very determined person and it upset me to think that one person’s actions could change everything. Graduation was important to me.”
The accident had come just days before finals and Samantha knew that some of the courses she had planned on taking the next semester were offered only in the spring, meaning any delay would put her back a full year. All of her plans seemed on the verge of collapse.
Samantha’s worries were quickly relieved by her teachers in the Art Department.
“They were really great about everything,” Samantha said. “Rhona Shand (Art Department chairperson) was wonderful. I was working on homework in the hospital and she told me to stop and just focus on getting better. She even helped work with my husband’s faculty in the College of Technology.”
Samantha got out of the hospital on Dec. 22 and showed up for the first day of spring semester classes in a wheelchair. She was determined, she said, to graduate on time and on her own two feet. On Feb. 14th, she stood for the first time since the accident and today she walks with a spring in her step.
Among those cheering Samantha on Friday will be her husband, Shawn, who is on track to earn his degree in engineering technology in 2014. It is a scenario that seemed unlikely in the hours and days following the accident.
“We are all so proud of Samantha,” Shand said. “She faced some pretty big obstacles this year, but she was determined and she worked hard. She was inspirational. These are characteristics that will serve her well throughout her life.”