CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Walking with a walker, and a tablet by his side, Sean Carter sat at a table at an event hosted by the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse of the Coastal Bend.
He sat with his walker — which serve as his legs — the tablet, which lends him a "voice."
But Carter wasn’t just attending Friday's event, at which Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo issued a proclamation making December Safe and Sober Month in Corpus Christi. He spoke about his experiences being the passenger in a car while his drunk friend was driving. The driver lost control of the wheel and struck a tree, leaving Sean unable to walk or talk.
That was 16 years ago, on March 27, 2005, and there’s not a day that goes by that Sean and his mother, Jenny Carter, don’t think about it.
“You probably think like I did: 'That will never happen to me.' But do you really want to take that chance?” Sean said through an electronic voice that came out of his iPad.
He’s able to walk now, but still can’t talk even after all these years. That’s why Sean felt it was important to speak out against drinking and driving. That wasn’t always the case, however.
Sean said he contemplated suicide when he woke up from being in a coma all those years ago. He made a lighthearted jab that he couldn’t even stand up to make it into the tub, or even get a toaster to drop into the bathtub.
That’s the way Sean is — he makes lighthearted jokes about his tough situation. Resiliency remains at the heart of his story.
“I blame it on the brain injury whenever I say something inappropriate,” Sean said.
His journey, leaving him with a collapsed lung and tubes in his chest, has left more than 35 scars and 18 pieces of metal in his body.
He once blamed God for his accident, but now accepts responsibility for his decision to drink and get in the car, even if it was just as the passenger.
Sean's mother and his service dog, Amos, are always by his side. Together Sean and Jenny formed When Sean Speaks Inc. and travel across the country, having spoken at more than 600 venues in their home state of Texas, all the way to New York.
“I refuse to believe that he’ll never be the same," Jenny said. "Even though he is different because he can’t talk, or walk without the walker, he’s still the same guy.”
Jenny is resilient, refusing to sulk about their situation, even quitting her job years ago to take care of Sean. She said parents should be conscientious of the decisions they make, because they can put their family in danger. She said parents should be a role model, because kids always look at their actions.
“Don’t go to that restaurant and have several drinks and take your kids back home with you,” Jenny said.
Kayla Salinas were captivated by the Carters' story. Salinas said she is now four years sober. After a tough journey with alcohol, she said it takes a willingness to be helped to get out of a dark situation.
“There’s hope and there’s help," she said. "There’s definitely people out there who could help you if you feel like there’s no way out."
Sean is living proof that drinking and driving, or getting into a car with someone who plans to drive after drinking, is a bad idea, and has string feelings about anyone who chooses to make the same mistake.
“It does not matter if you are a good person most every day," he said. "All it takes is one bad decision.”