FOR RELEASE: April 30, 2013
EDITORIAL CONTACT: Gina Logue, 615-898-5081, firstname.lastname@example.org
MURFREESBORO — Jennifer Austin’s life changed forever on Sept. 15, 2006.
She’s hoping her life will change forever again on May 10, 2013.
The 26-year-old MTSU graduate student in the Department of Health and Human Performance needs votes to become one of three people in the United States to win a fully equipped van that will enable her to drive herself wherever she needs to go.
Austin, who is paralyzed from the chest down, is a contestant in the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association competition.
If she wins, it will be a giant move forward in her continuing quest to regain more control over her life following a 2006 hit-and-run accident on Interstate 24.
“The whole point of going to graduate school is for better career opportunities, to really take that last step in independence and be able to drive again,” Austin said. “That’s going to open so many other doors for me.”
At present, Austin’s caregivers from At Home Care of Murfreesboro transport her where she needs to go. When the weather is nice, she drives herself to class in her electronic wheelchair from her first-floor apartment at Campus Crossings.
Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation Services is helping her manage, but she aspires to a well-paying job in the health professions so that she can pay for her therapy and care herself. Being able to drive herself to her ultimate place of employment would help make that possible.
“It would have an automatic ramp that comes down, which would allow me to drive my chair up into the van, right into the driver’s seat,” Austin says of the grand prize she wants so much. “There are special locks that would lock down my chair for safety when I’m driving.”
Austin was injured while driving home to Cowan, Tenn., on I-24 seven years ago when an SUV swerved into her car, propelling it into the median. The car flipped several times.
Police told her they believe she would not have survived had she not been ejected through the windshield.
Austin was flown to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, where her spleen and part of her left lung were removed.
She has minimal use of her arms and hands. Everything else is paralyzed.
To this day, the perpetrators of the hit-and-run accident remain at large, but Austin says she has moved on.
She credits MTSU’s Disabled Student Services with helping her take notes.
“That’s what sets MTSU apart,” Austin said. “They’re so passionate about helping students.”
Of course, it helps to have a supportive family. Austin still goes home to Cowan every weekend to see her parents and sister.
“They are the complete reason why I’m still here and able to do all this,” Austin said.
To vote for Austin, go to http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/jennifer-austin-cowan-tn/, enter your information and agree to the terms.
To get an extra vote each day click on the “want an extra vote” icon and answer the question in order to receive two votes instead of one. You must answer the question before you submit your vote.
Only one vote per IP address is allowed per day, but individuals may vote as many times per day as they wish from their cell phones until the end of the contest.
At the end of the competition, the judges will read the individual stories of entrants who made it into the top five percent of vote-getters. The final day to vote is Friday, May 10.
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