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'It made me realize ... what actually matters'

At about 5 p.m. on Feb. 22, Gwen Hamblin was driving her white, "1990-something" Hyundai to a friend's house when she crashed into an SUV at the intersection of Highway 140 and Kershaw Road.

"I looked both ways, but I didn't see him (the other driver), so I just went — and that was the last thing I remember," she said.

Hamblin, who wasn't wearing her seat belt, was ejected from the car through the passenger window. When she came to, she was lying on the ground in a pool of her own blood, and paramedics were preparing to load her onto a stretcher.

"The skin on my face and arm was gone, and my chin was split," she said. "There was also a fracture in my right shoulder."

"But the paramedic was really cute, and I made him smile. I figured that since I felt like I was dying, I better enjoy the moment."

Fortunately, the other driver wasn't injured, and Hamblin only spent one night and half a day in the hospital. But it took a week for her to look at her red, swollen face in the mirror.

"I live in an apartment, and I'm an active person," she said. "I wanted to get out and walk around, but I didn't feel pretty, and I didn't want to be pitied."

Hamblin received more than 100 stitches, but now, only a thin purple line runs along her jaw line.

"It was a reality check, and it made me slow down and realize what actually matters in life and how much I have to be thankful for," she said.

In the wake of the accident, Hamblin says, she grew closer with her mom and more grateful for her friends and grandmother.

Although she missed about a month of school, she will graduate June 9 from Rogue Valley Adventist Academy.

"She's only been with us two years, but from the moment she arrived on campus, she has been a positive influence," said Cynthia Ward, the school's registrar.

She has a "sweet spirit" and, throughout her recovery, maintained a positive outlook, Ward added.

Hamblin, who is gluten intolerant, recently completed a 10-page English paper on why people need to be aware of harmful chemicals in the environment and why "it's better to do things naturally."

"We never had good food growing up in my house," she said. "We had pizza, brownies, macaroni and cheese and all that junk, and I just decided that I wanted to eat healthy and feel better. It's a passion the Lord put in my heart."

This summer, Hamblin plans to volunteer at a naturopathic retreat in Idaho and work on an organic farm in Hawaii. She hopes to one day be a naturopathic doctor or health coach "and, of course, get married and have a family."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

'It made me realize ... what actually matters'