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The story of Kelly Narowski

30 May 2013 | Pfc. Brendan Roethel Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

Before heading out to a jazz festival on the beach one afternoon, Kelly Narowski, a professional speaker and Army spouse, stopped by her friend Heather’s house. Heather already had six to eight martinis by the time she arrived.

"I was more of a health fanatic than a drinker," said Narowski, who was 25 at the time and graduated college two months earlier. "But I decided to have two drinks with her that day."

After Heather said she had too much to drink, Narowski took the wheel of Heather’s Jeep Wrangler to drive them along California’s Highway 1 to a concert on the beach. The trip from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat was the last time she would ever walk.

Narowski neglected to fasten her seat belt, while her friend remembered to buckle up.

Narowski drove the car while she was buzzed with someone who had a lot to drink on a curvy mountain, said Narowski. With all of these factors in play Narowski soon experienced the consequences for her actions.

"I remember turning the wheel to the right, and the Jeep went left and hit the guard rail," said Narowski. "My body was pushed very hard into the steering wheel, and I broke my ribs, collarbone, and my lungs were collapsed and full of blood. The Jeep then collided with the guard rail a second time, throwing my body around the Jeep like a ragdoll until I ended up in the backseat."

Heather walked away from the accident. Narowski didn’t because she shattered her T6 vertebrae. The difference between wearing a seatbelt and not wearing one.

"The doctors said it exploded like a grenade. My spinal cord was stretched like a piece of taffy, and I was paralyzed from the chest down forever from that moment in time on," said Narowski.

She spent the next month in an intensive care unit having eight painful surgeries because of her actions. Narowski then went into rehabilitation to learn to live life as a wheelchair user.

An Army wife since 2005, Narowski left her career as a travel agent to devote herself full-time to help keep service members and others safe as a professional speaker. Narowski now goes all over the US telling her story to educate people on the various negative decisions people make everyday and their deadly consequences.

"I needed to do something so I could prevent this from happening to anyone else," said Narowski. "This isn’t a life anyone should have to live with. These accidents are 100 percent preventable, and I’m just trying to help prevent them"