After surviving a nearly fatal wreck, Vanessa Carrillo is walking again and her short-term memory is back.
Oh, and there's that $30,000 check. About 50 guests watched at Coca-Cola of Santa Fe on Monday as Carrillo accepted an oversized mock-up of the money raised toward putting her through medical school. And it all came about because the 19-yearold emergency medical technician requested a Dr Pepper when she awoke from a medically induced coma after being hit by a drunken driver on Dec. 15.
The La Cienega resident, who wants to become a doctor, was seriously injured in a high-profile crash on Interstate 25 when a drunken, wrongway driver plowed into the ambulance Carrillo was driving. Carrillo, who suffered dozens of broken bones in her face and leg, remembers nothing about the crash.
A local newspaper reported Carrillo's post-coma craving. Since then, friends, neighbors and businesses have bombarded her with more than 100 bottles of Dr Pepper, sweet comfort to aid in a long recovery.
"I was intubated," Carrillo said Monday. "I didn't actually say, 'I want a Dr Pepper.' They gave me a dry erase board, and I wrote it down."
When Stuart Feltman, vice president of sales for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., learned about Carrillo, he was determined to help. He forwarded her story to Dr Pepper national headquarters in Plano, Texas.
With the cooperation of 23 New Mexico and Colorado Walmarts and 14 Quick Stop convenience stores, Dr Pepper agreed to donate 50 cents of every case sold to an education fund for Carrillo. The promotion raised $23,426.50 for Vanessa's college fund; Dr Pepper rounded up the contribution to $30,000, regional sales manager Trey Strange said.
When Carrillo got home from the hospital, she couldn't use her legs. The accident landed her in a wheelchair. Now, she can walk, but with considerable pain.
"Everything hurts," she said. "My left leg and my right ankle; my left knee. Everything is in a lot of pain. I'm still on a lot of pain meds."
She will undergo surgery on Tuesday to fix a swollen lip and her shattered nose. At the same time, she's finishing her intermediate EMT license at Santa Fe Community College. At 5 feet tall and 92 pounds, she says she drinks a couple of Dr Peppers a day.
The driver who hit Carrillo, 26-year-old Kylene Holmes of El Paso, died at the scene. A toxicology report by the state Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque stated that Holmes had a blood-alcohol content of 0.26. The legal limit is 0.08. Holmes' passenger, 38-year-old Jennifer Michelle Belvin, survived the crash.
Holmes had been driving the wrong way -- south in I-25's northbound lanes -- for about 20 miles at speeds of more than 100 mph before she drove her Nissan into the ambulance Carrillo was driving. Carrillo was heading back to Santa Fe from the Albuquerque area.
Two hours after his shift had ended, Santa Fe police officer Paul Joy responded to the accident.
"He climbed in and broke the glass and stayed with Vanessa while they waited for the ambulance," Feltman said. An hour before the crash, a bouncer at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame bar and restaurant in downtown Santa Fe tried to talk Holmes and Belvin out of driving away, because they appeared too intoxicated. 'The more I read about Vanessa, the madder I got," Feltman said. "If it was my little girl, how mad would I be? We wanted to do as much as we could to help Vanessa reach her dream."
Carrillo said she had no idea the campaign would raise so much money.
"This is the greatest thing that could ever happen to me," she said. "I really appreciate everyone who was involved and helped out."
The 2009 Santa Fe High School graduate said she was inspired to become a doctor after caring for her mother, who died of brain cancer in May 2006.
She hopes to attend the University of New Mexico as a premed student in the fall.