2 years ago I was hit by a driver the police say was drunk. I needed 22 screws in my body and covered mirrors in my house so I couldn't see my scars.
Tess Rowland was 22 when she was hit head-on by a driver who the police say was under the influence.
This month she became the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.
This is Rowland's story, as told to Kelly Burch.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tess Rowland. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was 22 years old, I was living my dream of being a broadcast journalist. On the morning of May 4, 2021, I was driving to work near my home in Florida. All of a sudden I saw headlights coming toward me on the highway. After that, I don't remember anything until I woke up in the hospital. But I still see those headlights in my nightmares.
I had been hit by a driver the police said was intoxicated. In that instant I went from being a healthy 22-year-old to needing seven emergency surgeries. I had four plates and 22 screws put into my body. Seeing my scars was so jarring that for a while I covered mirrors in my house.
The physical recovery is ongoing — I expect I'll need a shoulder replacement soon — but the real challenge is recovering from the trauma of the crash. That's something I still deal with every day.
Note I say "crash," not "accident." As a journalist, I know that words matter, and what happened to me that day was not a mistake. It was a choice that someone made. That deliberate decision could have killed me. Instead, it reshaped my life.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped me navigate the aftermath
After the crash, I was contacted by a victim's advocate from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I later learned that the organization appoints advocates to all victims it learns about. I'm one of nearly 1 million victims of drunk driving who've benefited from that.
My advocate helped me through a very dark period of my life. They connected me with therapy and resources. The trauma that victims like me experience is almost unending — from the physical recovery to the mental and emotional exhaustion of navigating the criminal-justice system.
And it's not just victims — families are impacted too. I was out of work for five months after the crash. During that time, my mother upended her entire life to care for me. I can't even imagine where I would be without her.
Now I'm the youngest president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving
I saw the difference MADD made in my life and wanted to be more involved. I did fundraisers and organized a local DUI task force. Then, this February, I became the youngest-ever national president of MADD and the fourth president who isn't a mother.
Our organization was founded by a mom whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. But we serve everyone. I want people to know that is not your mother's MADD. Our message is still the same: Deaths and injuries from DUIs are 100% preventable. At MADD, we want to end drunk driving for good.
But the way we're spreading our message is different. My work will focus on speaking to young people. Unfortunately, many drunk-driving crashes involve drivers in their 20s.
Through a campaign called Coalition 45, we're going to raise awareness about just how often people are killed by drunk drivers: one person every 45 minutes. Nearly 400,000 people, like me, are injured by drunk drivers and have their lives changed in an instant. And yet these crimes are entirely preventable.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined I'd be in this position at 24. The crash could have been tragic, but I took control of the narrative and rewrote the ending of my story. I will tell my story whenever I can, hoping that one day no one else will have to go through this experience.
Read the original article on Insider