6 months of intensive brain therapy. More than 365 doctor appointments in a single year. Out of work for 18 months. And still recovering.

This has been life for Carolyn Chandler, an AT&T senior manager in the Office of the President, for the last 2 years. And it’s all because of a smartphone distracted driver.

But out of adversity comes triumph – and the chance to create more awareness around people with disabilities.

It couldn't wait

Carolyn_wrecked_Subaru_2.jpg

Carolyn was slammed from behind by a woman fumbling for her smartphone behind the wheel.

Carolyn was turning into her apartment complex on Jan. 23, 2016, when another car slammed into the back of her Subaru. The driver was fumbling for her smartphone when she hit Carolyn.

The impact was so violent, it knocked Carolyn’s car up and over a huge rock and across a sidewalk.

The crash left her with brain swelling, and damaged 8 of her 12 cranial nerves.

Drastic consequences

Carolyn_getting_an_EEG.jpg

Carolyn averaged 2 doctor’s appointments a day the first year following her accident.

Carolyn had to re-learn how to walk, talk, write, cook and turn her head. But that wasn’t her only challenge.

There was the pain – an ocular migraine that lasted 18 months – and multiple sensory issues. She’s still recovering from extreme sensitivity to light, loud noises and fast movements.

Yet, she considers herself fortunate.

“I’m lucky, and I’m so grateful for all the doctors and people who have supported me. I’m especially thankful for AT&T’s flexibility as I re-entered the workforce,” she said. “But it still doesn’t take away the pain or the fact I had to miss my grandpa’s funeral, my niece’s birth and my mom’s 60th birthday because of it.”

Even though Carolyn has had to rebuild her life, she doesn’t hold a grudge against the distracted driver who hit her. But she does want the accident to serve as a reminder about our It Can Wait message.

“I know it’s hard to resist the urge to pick up your smartphone while you’re driving, but the consequences of not resisting that temptation are drastic. It’s a bad habit that luckily didn’t kill me.”

Nor did it dull her sense of humor. Carolyn often wears a T-shirt with “Functional.” printed on the front.

Carolyn_functional_shirt.jpg

In good humor, Carolyn Chandler often wears this T-shirt to address the stigma about traumatic brain injuries.

“Sometimes when people find out I have a traumatic brain injury, they tend to think I’m not functional,” she said. “So, I had a friend make me a T-shirt with the word “Functional.” printed on it. While I did it tongue in cheek, I shouldn’t have to tell people I’m functional, and that’s what our chapter wants to change.

The silver lining

Carolyn_with_her_pet_turned_service_dog_Sopie_at_work.jpg

Carolyn credits her beloved pet-turned-service-dog, Sophie, for much of the progress she’s made.

Carolyn’s always been a force behind positive change in her community. So, when she saw the need for a virtual chapter of AT&T’s Ability Employee Resource Group (ERG) she started one. Ability works to create a culture of understanding, awareness advocacy and advancement for individuals with disabilities. A big part of that is changing the stigma that a person with a disability is no longer a valuable and contributing member of society.

“The virtual chapter is about advocating and advancing. We want to make being part of our ERG accessible for everyone, disability or not. ERGs are about celebrating and learning from and about diversities. And through that, we all advance, we all get better.”

And Carolyn is proof of that.