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Clearfield teen paralyzed by drunk driver inspires the world with recovery

Posted at 10:55 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-03 17:01:27-04

A Clearfield High School senior is inspiring people around the world after a crash caused by a drunk driver left her in the hospital for more than two months.

Sarah Frei is now a paraplegic and double amputee, but she's not letting that stop her from being positive about her recovery.

In fact, Sarah should be coming home from the hospital soon — just in time for a couple of events planned this month in her honor.

There's an old saying that your high school years are the best years of your life.

For 17-year-old Sarah, that meant some carefree summer fun before the start of her senior year.

"She was on a trip with some friends to Bear Lake," said Emily Craythorne, Sarah's older sister.

On the way back from the trip, as Sarah and her friends drove through Logan Canyon around 8 p.m. on July 30, everything changed.

"A drunk driver swerved into their lane through the canyon, and hit their car head on," Emily said.

Of the four teens in the car, Sarah was the worst off. At first she was rushed to Logan Regional Hospital, followed by a Life Flight to Primary Children's Hospital.

Emily described how Sarah was paralyzed from the waist down with a broken back and spinal cord injury. The teen lost 30 percent of her intestines and had no adequate blood flow to her legs. The muscles in her legs died, and Emily said the toxins were causing Sarah's kidneys to shut down.

Sarah had to be transferred to the University of Utah Hospital. Less than two days after the crash, doctors realized they needed to amputate both of Sarah's legs.

"Up until that point, we were all really worried that Sarah wasn't going to make it," Emily said.

In all, Sarah underwent 20 surgeries.

For the first two weeks, Sarah was so heavily sedated that she was barely conscious. It was clear she didn't know where she was, or what happened to her.

Her parents had to break the news to Sarah when she finally awoke that she lost her legs.

At one point when Sarah regained consciousness, Emily explained that Sarah was trying to make some sort of hand symbol to tell her parents something.

"Finally, she pushed her fingers down and she just formed an 'I love you' sign to mom and dad," Emily said, tearing up.

It was a simple sign that showed Sarah was going to be okay.

"Little things could fill me with so much joy," Sarah said, describing her weeks of recovery and progress.

Pictures and video show Sarah filled with that joy.

"Oh my gosh!" Sarah exclaims with an excited face and wide eyes upon her first sip of water and bite of Jell-O.

Another video shows her playing ping-pong as she regains strength in her arms.

Precious visits with her five older brothers and sisters — Sarah is the baby of the family — are filled with tears and cries of happiness.

One of Sarah's friends named Andrew asked her to homecoming. The video of her reaction went viral online. Sarah accepted, and Andrew came to the hospital for pictures. Sarah got dressed up and pinned a corsage on Andrew. He brought her a Cafe Rio meal, then promptly went to Cafe Rio and FaceTimed with her so that she could eat with her friends for homecoming dinner.

Then, Andrew FaceTimed with Sarah during the dance. Video shows her dancing in her hospital bed as Sarah watches her friends on the screen.

Sarah's cheer team at Clearfield High School choreographed a dance to Sarah's favorite song, "Home Sweet" by Russell Dickerson. They perform it at every half time, she said. It has inspired other high school cheer teams to do the same.

This week, Sarah learned the dance and Emily took a video of Sarah performing it in the hospital.

Her high school and community have rallied around Sarah, with tributes, fundraisers, events and wearing T-shirts and bracelets that say "Sarah Strong."

In one video, dozens of people crowd onto a high school bleacher and yell, "We love you Sarah!"

On social media, Sarah's posts and videos have circulated across the world and have served as an inspiration to people who are struggling.

"It's been the most incredible thing," Sarah said.

She said she can't wrap her head around it.

"All of the comments and all of the sweet DMs and messages that I get about me changing someone else's life.... It's just... I can't believe it," she said, getting choked up as she spoke. "And I'm so glad."

It's that love and all the prayers that keep her going. She also described how her faith is a big reason she's stayed happy.

"I just know that God is watching out for me, and that he loves me," Sarah said. "And he doesn't want me to be sad."

Sarah isn't sad. She's unstoppable.

And hopefully, she can come home from the hospital in a couple of weeks.

"I'm getting excited for the day that I can come home," she said.

During what's supposed to be the best years of her life, even in the worst of situations, Sarah is staying positive, upbeat, and strong.

"Even when you're going through something so hard, you can find little reasons to smile and be happy," she said.

Next weekend there's a benefit concert planned for Sarah, featuring Mat and Savannah Shaw, Vocalocity, and Alex Boye. Click here to purchase in-person tickets, and here for virtual tickets.

There are also other events planned, including a 5K race. Click here to follow Sarah's journey, and here to see upcoming events.