After life-changing crash, mom defies the odds to complete degree

After life-changing crash, mom defies the odds to complete degree
Published: May. 16, 2016 at 8:07 PM HST|Updated: May. 16, 2016 at 9:04 PM HST
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MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - On February 2, 2013, Ashley Maria was the passenger on a motorcycle when it lost control, crashing on the Pali Highway.

She was thrown from the bike, every inch of her body sustaining damage. "My left arm. Shoulder. Collar bone. Broken ribs. Punctured lung, and I have nerve damage in my leg," she said.

Though she was wearing a helmet, Maria also suffered traumatic brain injury.

"All the physical injuries were not as bad as the brain," she said on a recent morning, cradling her head.

The brain injury spurred cognitive and emotional issues, along with retrograde and short-term amnesia.

Rehab was brutal.

Doctors would lay out pictures for her to look at: A car, box, chicken. She couldn't recognize them. "I'm like ... pink, yellow, blue?" she said.

Her journey to recovery is all the more incredible when you consider that Maria didn't just heal, she went back to school.

In May 2013, she told her family and doctors that she was returning to classes at Kapiolani Community College.

"I was determined to graduate. I came back, I had to," she said.

Three years later, at 30, she's attained her goal. On Saturday, she graduated with her bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Maria said returning to school after her accident was tough. She had to fight through the mental fog, and rely on family and friends to get her to class because she wasn't cleared to drive again.

"Somebody would bring me. I knew a classmate or my mom. It was like back to 10 years old," she said.

Another integral part of her experience was the Lunalilo Scholars Program. Launched in 2012, the program helps students with barriers to college access.

Now, with a degree in hand, Maria and her 12-year old son Brayden are ready for the future, using lessons from the past to get her there. "I'm one step at a time. I'm going to now start exploring my options," she said.

She's quick to point out, those options didn't exist three years ago.

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