Student impaled by golf club talks about freak accident
JONESBORO, AR (WMC) - Natalie Eaton was a freshman at Arkansas State University when a student hit a football with a golf club, snapping it in half, and sending the broken shaft flying across the yard.
The broken golf club impaled Natalie in the neck, paralyzing her. For the first time, she is describing the moment that changed her life forever.
Learning to eat, put on her makeup...they are not the type of instructions that Natalie Eaton thought she would get as a college freshman at ASU.
"Eating at first. I wasn't feeding myself," she said. "I was like, 'No, it's too hard.' Now, I've learned to use silverware and feed myself."
It's a sharp contrast to the life she knew before the life-changing incident on the second day of school.
"I was at the fraternity house. They were grilling hamburgers," she explained. "Me and two of the redheaded girls said, 'Let's take a picture.' So, we took a picture. Seconds before, I switched places with another girl and then from behind is when the golf club came."
Frozen in time is Natalie, smiling in the picture with her friends. If you look closer, you can see a young man about to take the swing. The golf club broke into two pieces, sending part of it 35 feet into Natalie's neck.
"It was an instant paralyzation," she recalled. "So, that was the scariest part is that I knew I was down and I couldn't move anything. Beause I had tried to get up."
Natalie tried to move her head and could hear metal scrape.
"It was pretty devastating. She said, 'All I saw was blood everywhere, Mom.' She said, 'The guys were throwing up. The girls wouldn't even look at me.'" said Natalie's mom, Fonda Eaton.
"I had no clue what it was. It was just like from my head to my toes. My body just shut down," Natalie added.
Students rallied to help, including the young man with the golf club, who tried to stop the bleeding with his shirt. At that point, Natalie says God intervened.
Her brother, Brody Eaton, a doctor in residency, was performing student physicals just down the street.
"It's almost weird..because he got there so quick," Natalie said.
Brody broke the news to his mother.
"He said, 'You better straighten up. You got to quit crying. She's going to be OK. She'll probably by paralyzed, but she's going to be OK. She's going to live,'" said Fonda.
The golf club's shaft, deep in her neck, couldn't be removed in Jonesboro. Natalie was flown to Regional Medical Center in Memphis for emergency surgery.
"She looked at me, and said, 'Mom, I'm going to die.' And I said, 'No, you're going to be OK.'" Fonda recalled.
Natalie's right side was not responding.
"I just thought, my life's over. I have movement in this side. But, the other side doesn't do anything. I can't walk with one leg," Natalie explained.
The injury to her spinal cord resulted in a loss of motor function, touch, and sense of positioning.
"Every day is hard. It's very hard. But, I have had so much support from home," she continued.
Recovery is a slow process at the Shepherd's Center in Atlanta. It is one of the nation's top rehabilitation hospitals for spinal cord and brain injuries. There, specialists work with Natalie's body as she works on the bigger picture.
"Every time I got upset, God was there for me," she said. "'You're mine. I have a plan for you and this is not it.' And I still believe that ... There's going to be something glorious that comes out of this."
She continued, "I do believe one day that I will walk again and do the things that I can do.And it will be a normal life. It's just going to be a long way to get there."
Right now, Natalie is an "incomplete" quadriplegic, which means she is making progress. A "complete" quadriplegic means progress has stopped.
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