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Ashley Faulkenberry has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
“Words can’t describe just how thankful I am,” she said. “I’m thankful just to be alive.”
Seriously injured in a 4-wheeler accident on May 30, this is one holiday that Ashley, 21, never thought she would see.
What was billed as a late night of fun and mud-slinging with friends off Spirit Road in the Rich Hill community quickly became a nightmare.
The ATV she and her boyfriend, Jason Knight, were riding on, flipped seven times and Ashley, who was not wearing a helmet, was thrown into an embankment. Knocked unconscious from the impact, that’s all she remembers.
“A lot of dumb mistakes were made that day, the kind of mistakes you can’t take back,” she said. “You wish you could, but you can’t. All you can do is learn from it and go on. That and, warn others not to do the same dumb things.”
But just going on with her life was about to become the most serious challenge Faulkenberry ever faced.
In the impact, she suffered a head injury so severe that her parents, Lisa and Ricky Faulkenberry, were told that she may not live through the day. Ashley’s skull was fractured on the left side just below the occipital bone and her brain was badly swollen.
“Without a doubt, that is a mother’s worst nightmare,” Lisa said. “When we got to the hospital, we actually walked by her room the first time because we didn’t recognize her. That’s how bad it was.”
Lisa said, despite the prognosis, she refused to lose hope and prayed nonstop for “God to give me back my rock.”
“I told God I would take her back in any shape if he would just give her back to me,” she said. “All I wanted was for him to give her back.”
Ashley made it through the day, but there was little change.
For the next three days, at the urging of Ashley’s doctors, Lisa and Ricky talked to the daughter, but there was little response.
“She might open her eyes and flick them and talk some, but never would fully respond,” Lisa said. “We were really, really worried. I don’t think we would’ve made it without all the support. It was unreal the people who showed up, who prayed and sent cards, food and money. That’s what got us through. I never knew my child was loved by so many people. We are very fortunate.”
But somehow – through what Ashley calls God’s amazing grace, she regained full consciouness June 6 when the swelling in her brain subsided.
But just waking up wasn’t enough. Ashley was in a much different condition.
“When I woke up, I didn’t have any idea about what had been going on,” she said. “Because of the head injury, I had the mind of a toddler.”
For Ashley, the next month would be starting all over again.
She had to be fed and bathed by her parents, taken to the bathroom and had to learn how to walk.
“I even had to learn to talk again,” she said. “I felt like I was living in a bubble.”
Slowly, day by day, Ashley’s mental state and motor skills improved. But she said it wasn’t like flipping on a light switch. She compares each day to living in a “weird, weird dream.”
“It came back gradually,” Ashley said. “It wasn’t all at one time, by any means. And to be honest, it really made me mad. The doctors wouldn’t let me drive or do anything for a long time. I like my independence and everybody was treating me like I was 4. I understand that’s what had to be done, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.”
A hairstylist, Ashley had to relearn those skills, too. She lost some of her clients, along with a lot of her friends.
“When you go through something like this, you really find out who your friends are,” she said. “I’m not saying that to be mean to anybody, but for me, that’s been the biggest heartache. The people you think are your friends, aren’t really your friends after all.”
That, she said, has strengthened her bond with her parents, and her 25-year-old brother, Brandon, who lives in Clemson. Most young adults may want to be on their own, but not Ashley.
“We’ve always been a real close family, but this has made us even closer. I would rather be around them and Jason more than anyone else,” she said. “It’s opened my eyes to a lot of things. When you go through stuff like this, you can understand why your parents hurt so bad when you hurt. What I’ve been through since June will either make you or break you.”
That mindset shows just how much Ashley has not only re-learned, but learned, in the last five months.
Just like her skills with scissors and clippers and her somewhat spotty memory, Ashley’s clientèle is slowly returning. She now works at Studio Images Salon and is even pondering college.
“I love making people feel good about themselves,” she said. “When they come into the shop, you look forward to seeing them and catching up. You really get attached to your customers.”
Lisa said when the Faulkenberrys say grace at dinner Thursday, the significance of the day won’t be lost.
“It’s been a tough year for us all the way around,” Lisa said. “Ricky’s been in two car wrecks and was hurt pretty bad when he broke his back. But it’s been a blessing for us, too. I know both of them made it through for a good reason. We have two wonderful children and we’re still together. We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.”
Despite an occasional headache, Ashley is determined to live to the fullest each day with a positive outlook.
“They said there was no way I’d make it past June 30, and I’m still here,” she said. “I’m just thankful to be alive, and for once, I’m gonna sit back and let God show me what he wants me to do with my life. I know I’ve got a purpose here for something and I’ll find out when he tells me.”
Just maybe, God already has.