ATLANTA - Tori Blocker is one many graduates we'll hug and celebrate this month, but few have come as far as this soft-spoken south Georgia 17-year old.
"Tori was one of the toughest fighters I've ever seen," Children's Healthcare of Atlanta physical therapist Heather Petersen says. "She was determined."
Tori's mother Terri Blocker says she finally feels like she can exhale, after 7 and a half months of holding her emotions inside.
"She's accomplished so much," Blocker says.
For starters, Tori Blocker survived a wreck that destroyed her compact car.
"When I show people her car, they cannot believe that, first off, she lived, period," Terri Blocker says.
It was September 26th, 2016, in tiny Bellville, Georgia, just outside of Statesboro.
"Tori had gone to her school, Pinewood Christian Academy, to pick up something from the locker room," her mother remembers.
At an intersection, Tori stopped, then suddenly pulled her car forward, directly into the path of a 30,000-pound bucket truck, which slammed into her the driver's side door.
"And my mom heard it on the police scanner," Terri Blocker says.
First responders thought Tori was dead.
Then, she took a deep breath.
Still strapped into her seat, she'd suffered a severe brain injury and multiple broken bones.
When her parents found their youngest child in a nearby ER, Tori was barely alive.
"At that moment, I said, 'Lord, take this because I can't do this,'" Terri Blocker says.
Airlifted to a Savannah hospital, Tori spent the next month in an intensive care unit, then two more months at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Terri says her daughter lay in a coma-like state for weeks.
"She couldn't walk, she couldn't talk, she couldn't eat," she says.
Coming back from a traumatic brain injury was excruciatingly slow.
But, on Christmas Eve, three months after the accident, a glimpse of hope.
Tori's grandmother gave her a whiteboard, and Tori motioned for someone to give her a marker.
"And she took it and she wrote a complete sentence," her mother remembers. "She wrote, 'I love all of y'all.' With a quotation mark and a period. And that was the best Christmas gift I could have received. Because I cried and loved her, and cried and loved her."
After a rough January back home in south Georgia, Tori returned to Children's, this time for intensive day rehabilitation.
She would spend the next three months working with a team of physical, occupational and speech therapists 5 days a week, 6 hours each day.
Heather Petersen was assigned as her physical therapist.
"So, on day one, mom told me, 'In two months, Tori is going to prom, and we really want her to walk into prom.'" Petersen says. "And that was their big goal."
Two days later, Tori, who'd been in a wheelchair for months, stood up, with Petersen spotting her from behind.
"It was amazing to see the light in her eyes, when she realized she could walk by herself, for the first time in months," Petersen recalls.
Sitting with her daughter, who is nodding and listening, Terri Blocker says,
"She pushed herself every day. And they pushed you because they could. They pushed you to do your very best."
Tori Blocker wanted to walk into prom on the arm of her boyfriend of two and a half years, Logan, who is a senior.
He'd stuck by her even in the early days, just after the accident, when things were so bad, Tori's mother gave him an out.
"I said, 'Son, if you need to back away, nobody will look down on you for that,'" Terri Blocker says. "He said, 'No, Ma'am. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to with her for the rest of her life. So, I am with her through all of this.'"
On prom night, they were the last couple introduced.
"And when they walked in, that gym had a lot of tears from a lot of people, because they have prayed so much," Tori's mother says.
Tori was crowned prom princess, which surprised no one in her day rehab program at Children's Healthcare.
Now, at her graduation from the program, her therapists take turns praising this teen who has endured so much.
"I have loved working with you, and I will always think of you," one tells her.
And when it's Tori's turn to talk, she's grateful.
"Thank you for making be better," she says quietly.
And with that, the prom princess turned warrior heads back home to Bellville.
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