Natalie Eaton returns to Arkansas State University

Natalie Eaton returns to A-State after long recovery

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Natalie Eaton left Arkansas State University a year ago this week in an ambulance, just two days into her college career.

In a freak accident, Eaton was impaled in the neck with the shaft of a broken golf club at a fraternity party, just down the street from her sorority house.

She suffered a very serious spinal cord injury resulting in Brown-Sequard syndrome.

But moments after the accident, it wasn't certain if she would survive.

Her brother, a physician-in-residency, happened to be on campus that evening conducting student physicals.

Dr. Brody Eaton rode in the ambulance with his sister on the way to St. Bernards.

The pair prayed as she was rushed to the hospital.

"When I think about the traumatic part of it, it feels like it was just yesterday," said Natalie, now 20 years old.  "In a way, it feels like that had to be 20 years ago. But then at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday. So it feels like it's both at different times. But, when I think about therapy and all the stuff I've done to get here. It feels like ten years ago."

Eaton was taken on an emergency flight to the Med in Memphis for an emergency surgery to remove the broken club from her neck.

From there, she was flown to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for months of physical and occupational therapy.

For the first three weeks following her accident, Natalie could only stare at the ceiling from her hospital bed.

The first time she was placed in an electric wheelchair, Natalie asked her mother to put the photo on Facebook.

She was elated over the chance to have a change of scenery.

But, the photo depicted how limited her movement was in those early days and it was hard for some to accept.

"To get into a chair and look around, was like this overwhelming happiness," Natalie said about that first day sitting up. "There were a lot of emotional days. It was hard. I remember one day my goal was just to get out of my wheelchair and onto the couch and I couldn't do it and it was just like a big breakdown.

"It was like that a lot," said Natalie of the days when tears were quick to come. "You can't really relate to someone unless you've been through something that traumatic."

Because of her experiences and difficult recovery, Natalie decided to change her major.

"Last year, I wanted to be a nurse. I know now I do not want to be a nurse at all," Natalie said. "I got to see first-hand all that nurses do. They are extremely selfless and I don't think I could do that. Now I want to do public relations and I think the end goal that I want is to one day work as a PR person for the Shepherd Center. That would be really, really neat. They have people in every state that represent them and go see patients."

Last November, Region 8 News traveled to the Shepherd Center to share Natalie's progress.

Then, it was difficult for her to even take one step.

Nonetheless, she told us that her goal was to walk to class again at Arkansas State.

Now, nine months later, Natalie is preparing to realize that goal.

She plans to walk to class on Monday, when classes resume for the fall at A-State.

"I'm just really thankful to be here," she said. "I think God gave me that back. He gave me the joy of living. He gave me a second chance."

Natalie returned to campus to help with her sorority's recruitment efforts.

She had just pledged Chi Omega when the accident happened last year.

She said the young women have treated her like she never left.

They have supported her with cards, letters and messages during her recovery.

Now, she stands with them on the staircase of the sorority as they practice singing.

Her smile is wide and eyes bright as the group sings in unison.

"The life I had was taken away from me and I want it back," Natalie said. "I feel like I've fought long and hard to reach that goal and I'm very excited to do what I meant to in the beginning."

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