He can’t walk. He can’t talk. But when he speaks about drinking and driving, people across Texas are hanging on his every word.Sean Carter has become a unique Texas voice in the fight against drunken driving. Sean beat death and out-willed hopelessness with the help of a loving mom and nothing but hope itself.”I had a phone call at 3:30 in the morning,” said Jenny Carter, Sean’s mom.
Jenny was about to hear the catastrophic news. That night, Sean was a college student in North Texas who had been out drinking with the boys. When one of those drinkers drove home, their truck went out of control and slammed a tree in Wichita Falls, Texas. Sean was in the passenger seat. He was cut, had multiple broken bones, and ER doctors told Jenny he was unresponsive.
“Worst of all was his traumatic brain injury,” Jenny said. “He did not move at all.”
Sean was in a coma and paralyzed. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t talk. Doctors gave Jenny scary details about the worst-case scenario. They told her that her job was to hope for the best.
“I just felt like I couldn’t let those negative thoughts enter the picture,” Jenny said. “They couldn’t be part of the story.”
Sean’s progress moved slowly. He went from hospital to rehab center to long-term care. Still, he could only slightly move his head.
“I knew he had a brain injury, so I prayed for my son’s mind,” Jenny said. “And it always makes me cry because that’s what I got — my son’s mind.”
Seventy-five days after the crash, Jenny realized Sean could actually recognize letters. His mind was alive, yet he was trapped in silence. Weeks later, he was finally able to write — turning thoughts into sentences. Months later, he got a computer device to help put a voice to his words.
“He spelled and he said, ‘I can finally conversate with you,’” Jenny recalled. “From there, the conversations never stopped.”
Sean was now able to speak through a computer device with an artificial, almost robot-sounding voice. Yet, with each word, the real Sean Carter became alive again.
“It is a necessity for my happiness,” Sean said. “It gives me a voice in the absence of my real voice.”
Sean was about to use that new voice to change the way Texans think about drunken driving. Even though Sean wasn’t driving the car the night of the crash, he said he was just as much at fault.
“The mistake came when I made the decision to ride home with my friends,” Sean said. “I was not aware of how much we had been drinking.”
“When alcohol is involved, it could have been prevented,” said Jenny.
So now, Sean takes his story on the road throughout Texas. He and his mom created a foundation to spread his message about drinking and driving. From high schools to church groups to rooms full of DWI offenders, Sean speaks a message of prevention, mixed with a heaping dose of hope.
“I get e-mails and text messages months later saying because of our message, they are making better decisions about their life,” Sean said. “They make better decisions about partying.”
“They will call and say ‘I know Sean made it, so I know, now I can, too,’” Jenny said. “That’s pretty powerful. It makes it worthwhile.”
Sean is now taking steps toward walking again — always with a smile on his face. He told us giving up on hope is giving up on yourself. And while Sean can’t fully walk and still can’t talk, he’s no longer silenced.
His message is spread loud and clear.
“When Sean speaks, people listen,” Jenny said. “There is wisdom in his silence.”
Sean’s nonprofit group is appropriately named When Sean Speaks. Along with its message about drunk driving, it also hopes to raise money for traumatic brain injury research.