A woman who was napping in the backseat of her friend's car woke up to find herself paralyzed from the chest down after a horrific car crash.
In April 2008, Tammy Le, from San Jose, California, was asleep in the car when a driver cut her friend off, and the friend swerved to avoid colliding.
The vehicle crashed into a concrete lane divider and when Le, then age 17, awoke, she was upside down and unable to move her arms or legs.
In the hospital, doctors told her that she was paralyzed from the chest down and would spend the rest of her life as a quadriplegic.
Le, now 28, says she has regained some movement in her arms during recovery and wants to encourage others that there is life after paralysis.
Tammy Le, 28, from San Jose, California, was napping in the backseat of her friend's car when a driver cut them off, and the friend swerved to avoid a collision. Pictured: Le, left, wearing a halo brace and on a ventilator
The car crashed into a concrete lane divider and Le (left and right) was rushed to the hospital. This is when doctors discovered two vertebrae were shattered and her spine required reconstruction
At the time of the accident, Le was a high school senior - just two months away from graduation - and working two part-time jobs.
'Aside from hearing a lot of yelling in my deep sleep, I don't remember much,' Le said.
'I woke up upside down, with the car on top of my head and all the windows around me were shattered.'
Le was rushed into emergency surgery, where doctors discovered that her C4/C5 vertebrae, which control the diaphragm and muscles in the upper arms, were shattered.
Surgeons reconstructed her spine and inserted rods. Le spent three months in hospital as she came to terms with her new life as a quadriplegic.
To move, the brain sends a signal to the spinal cord. Then nerve cells in the spinal cord control the muscles in the legs to move.
When people are paralyzed, the neurons that receive signals from the brain are damaged, meaning they can't control the muscles.
'At first, I wondered why it felt so good to be paralyzed, but then I realized they had induced me with a lot of morphine,' Le said.
'The daunting moment when I realized the magnitude of my situation was when they told me I was unable to drink water or eat anything. I now have a deeper gratitude for food and I never thought that it would be a luxury to feed myself.'
Doctors told Le she was paralyzed from the accident and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life. Pictured: Le during a rehabilitation center
Le spent three months in the hospital and was told she needed to learn to eat by herself before she could be discharged. Pictured: Le during a workout session
Le was slowly weaned off the ventilator and she had to learn to eat by herself again before she could be discharged.
After she finally showed weight gain, she was allowed to go home - three days before her eighteenth birthday.
Le was immediately put into physical therapy, and has since regained some movement in her arms and hands.
'I was doing core workouts, electrical stimulation as well as getting in walkers to practice walking in order to engage below my level of injury,' Le said.
'After that, it wasn't only physical rehabilitation I had to face, it was emotional and mental as well. It's still ongoing but I've accepted the ebb and flow of my life now, and this injury.'
Le now does exercise at home by pushing around her manual wheelchair as well as using resistance bands and battle ropes.
She credits her family and her friends with helping her maintain a positive attitude, but also that she recognizes when she needs 'alone time'.
Currently, Le (left and right) exercises at home and uses resistance bands and battle ropes to help regains strength and movement. She also credits her family and her friends with helping her have a positive attitude
Le has regained some movement in her arms and hopes her recovery provides hope to others. Pictured: Le with her caregiver's daughter
Le says she hopes that her recovery inspires others who are in a similar situation to not give up hope.
'In the first few years following the crash, my strength and happiness were a façade because I felt like it was an obligation to look like I was okay,' she said.
'Now, for my own self-acceptance and sanity, I consciously breathe through every thought to wade off negative and critical ones.
'Sometimes we don't know, nor can we control what life throws at us, but it's important to remember that you always have a choice in how to respond and control the situation at hand. Where there's a will, there's a way.'