Catching hope: High school softball player uses gratitude to deal with paralysis
But while Sam Guillory was a delight to watch on the softball diamond, it was her inner strength that always impressed those who knew her best. Her uncle once told Jill that what he admired most about Sam was how at ease she was in her own life.
"Sam is comfortable in her own skin," said her mom. "She doesn't wish she was someone else."
Not even now that her body had betrayed her.
It was the sentence every parent fears hearing.
"I was leaving Young Women's and my husband drives up and said, 'Jill, there has been a car wreck,' " she said, emotion forcing her to stop the story. "I said, 'Call her phone!' I called it, and her friend answered. I said Erin, 'Where is Sam?' And I could hear Sam say, 'Am I paralyzed?' "
The tears choke her voice again. She tries in vain to stop them. She apologizes. She laughs, and then continues, "You're a mom. You know. I was just sick."
Sam's memory of the accident is a mixture of what she sees in her mind and what others tell her. She remembers driving home from a volleyball game on Aug. 14 with three friends, all of whom were wearing seat belts, and driving on the highway thunder strip that's meant to warn — albeit rather abruptly — drivers who have strayed off the road and onto the shoulder.
"I remember seeing the sign that said 26 miles to Nephi," she said. "I guess I over-corrected and that's when the car kind of rolled."
The Ford Focus rolled multiple times off the road. The car stopped, and her friends, mostly uninjured except one who needed stitches, called for help.
"I blacked out," Guillory said. Her first memory is hearing the voice of her best friend's father, Mike Tischner, who is a police officer.
"I remember they were putting me in the ambulance, and I was like, 'Don't leave me, Mike,' " she said softly.
She was taken to the hospital in Nephi, which is where her parents first saw her. Her memory is hazy; her parents' painful.
"It's weird because I felt like my eyes were closed all the time and I was really tired," she said. "When I got to the hospital, I remember I told someone I was hurting. But I don't remember hurting."
The combination of trauma and the pain medicine force Sam to rely on her friends and family when she tries to fit the pieces of that night back together. She and her mom still laugh about the handsome doctor she saw in the hallway before surgery.
"I thought his name was Tim," she said, smiling. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, he's cute.' "
But when she asked nurses about him later, they said the only Tim they knew was an elderly pharmacist.
"I guess I imagined him," she said, making everyone in the room laugh.
While Sam was flown from Nephi to UVU for surgery that fused her damaged vertebrae (C5, C6, and C7) together, her parents drove. When her mom arrived, Sam was in a halo that screwed into her head and kept her neck immobile. She shouted a question at her mom as her parents entered the room.
"She said, 'Mom, did the Yankees win?' " Jill laughingly recalled.
Sam said she remembers a doctor talking to her about her injuries briefly.
"He said, 'Your legs don't work.' " When asked if she would ever walk again, he continued, "You never know; everyone's different." Sam said, "That kept my mind off of it." And she still holds onto hope, even while she struggles with the reality of paralysis.
Asked whether she believes she'll regain use of her legs, she said, "Why not? It could turn out that way, I guess. Sometimes it feels like I'm moving, but I'm not."
She doesn't spend a lot of time mourning.
"She has bad moments, but not bad days," said her mom. Three weeks after the accident, she struggled to swallow and taste food that she used to love and longed for the day she could brush her own teeth.