Fate, destiny, luck -- call it what you like, circumstances beyond her control have played a major role in Vanessa Carrillo's life over the past few months.
First, the 20-year-old EMT was severely injured in December when the ambulance she was driving was hit head-on by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 25.
Her legs were broken in 20 places in the crash, and there were another 15 fractures in the bones of her face. The young woman's body was so traumatized in the accident -- which claimed the life of the intoxicated driver who hit her -- that doctors put her in a medically induced coma while they worked to repair her.
But when Carrillo awoke, her fortune took a turn for the better.
Media accounts of the unassuming young woman's first request, for a Dr Pepper, caught the attention of Stuart Feltman, vice president of sales for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Santa Fe, which distributes the soft drink.
He sent a copy of her story to his national headquarters and received authorization to begin a campaign to generate funds to help Carrillo realize her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.
The campaign began Tuesday. Between now and April 6, 50 cents from the sale of every 24 cans (not bottles) of Dr Pepper, Diet Dr Pepper or diet or regular cherry-flavored Dr Pepper sold in one of 23 participating Walmart stores and 15 Quik Stop stores in New Mexico (and one in Colorado) will be donated to Carrillo's college fund.
Participating Walmart stores include those in Gallup, Albuquerque, Española, Las Vegas and Durango, Colo.
Coca-Cola's regional sales manager, Trey Strange, said based on last year's sales, the campaign has the potential to generate about $25,000 for Carrillo's education.
The soft-spoken young woman took a few minutes Tuesday to kick off the campaign at the Walmart in Santa Fe. Between her ongoing physical therapy, classes at Santa Fe Community College and homework, she had only a few minutes.
The event was at 11:15, and her next class was at noon.
"I haven't really had any time to just lay there," said Carrillo, who is still using a wheelchair, but has begun walking short distances.
Carrillo said she plans to start classes at The University of New Mexico in the fall, where she'll pursue a bachelor's degree in emergency medicine. After that, her hope is to go to medical school. In the meantime, she's working to obtain her Emergency Medical Technician intermediate certificate at SFCC.
UNM requires only a basic certificate to enter the emergency medicine bachelor's degree program. "But I think going to intermediate in between will help me," Carrillo said.
Carrillo said she wants to be a doctor because she loves to help people.
"That's all I've ever really liked doing," she said. "I've had a bunch of other jobs, like at a car dealership and as a secretary, but I never liked it. I would go in on my days off if they needed extra help at Rocky (Rocky Mountain EMS, the ambulance service she worked for at the time of the crash). I would go in just because I liked it, not for the extra money or anything -- just because I wanted to help someone that day."