GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Nearly 200 Gautier High seniors fulfilled their dream of receiving their diploma Saturday night.
For one graduate, she never thought that night was even possible. Amber Dooley just turned 18 this month, and what a life she has had so far.
As a child, Amber was clinging to life after a horrible accident. Doctors gave her just days to live. But Amber defied the odds and overcame incredible obstacles so she could walk across the stage.
Amber wants to capture every moment of her final year at Gautier High. After all, the 18-year-old once thought she would never get to celebrate her senior year with her friends. She wasn't supposed to even be alive.
"I feel amazing! I feel like I proved all the doctors wrong, everybody wrong. So I feel awesome," said Amber.
Amber calls herself a walking miracle. Her story of survival began when she was nine years old while living in the small town of Winnsboro, Louisiana.
It was September 29, 2006. Amber's dad was driving her and her four-year-old sister to school. Their car suddenly slammed into the back of a cotton trailer that had broken down.
"The dash collapsed on my leg and my lap. I remember them saying there was a lot of blood," said Amber.
"When I pulled out of the driveway, I could see the smoke from the fire. So I called my ex-husband and he was screaming 'It's Amber, it's Amber! Get down here!'" said Amber's mom Karri Dooley.
What she saw would break any mother's heart.
"She didn't look alive. I think she quit breathing a couple of times. You really don't think or feel at that moment," said Dooley.
While Amber's dad and younger sister walked away with barely a scratch, Amber's injuries were severe. Her facial bones, collar bone, and right leg were all broken. And because her head hit the windshield, the impact destroyed 60-percent of her brain. Amber was airlifted to a hospital in Shreveport where she was put on life support.
"They gave her probably three days to live. It was hard," said Dooley.
Amber ended up in a coma. During that time, she recalled having a spiritual experience.
"I believe I went to heaven when I was in a coma. I remember when I got there, I saw Jesus. He told me all this is going to be hard, but I have to keep pushing forward, because my reward in the end will be great," said Amber.
Five weeks later, Amber finally woke up from her coma.
"They said I couldn't talk, but I remember saying 'momma' and she got up and she was like 'Aah!'' said Amber.
"When she finally woke up, I mean we were all happy. We couldn't wait for her to get out," said Dooley.
But the family was not prepared for the long, agonizing road to recovery that lied ahead. Amber suffered a traumatic brain injury and was paralyzed on the left side of her body.
"She had to learn to read and write, talk and walk. It was like a baby," said Dooley.
"I was in so much pain going from being paralyzed and not being able to move anything to standing up. It was hard," said Amber.
Through months of grueling physical therapy and anguish, one person never left her side.
"Momma, she kept pushing me. She kept telling me, 'You have to do this Amber if you want to overcome.' So I kept doing it and I learned how to walk," said Amber.
In 2010, Amber's family moved to Gautier. She started her freshman year at Gautier High, where she became an inspiration to so many.
"She just makes us happy and full of joy and we're lucky to have her, and we're going to miss her," one friend commented.
Amber believes the journey, though difficult, was part of God's plan for her.
"He has a great miracle. I'm just one step, but there are so many people that I can touch and I have touched," said Amber.
"I'm going to graduate because of this one, because she inspires me to try hard," said Gautier High Junior Brittney Delaney.
Amber is deaf in her right ear, and her eyes are not aligned. Despite her disabilities, Amber has pushed herself to excel.
"She has one of the highest averages in this Allied Health Program. She's done very, very well over the past two years," said Allied Health Teacher Jenne King.
Amber will not only graduate this year, but graduate with honors.
"It's amazing! I've gone against all odds. I was told I wouldn't be able to walk again, to talk again, to even breathe again or move, and I'm going to graduate and I'm going to prove all of them wrong," said Amber. "When I get my diploma, I'm going to put this hand up in the air and I'm going to say 'I did it!'"
Amber plans to go to college and become a nurse, because she wants to save lives just like the nurses that helped her. Amber and her mom also want to start a support group for South Mississippi families that are dealing with traumatic brain injuries.