High school senior overcomes horrific crash to graduate
May 23, 2015 at 10:30 p.m.
Updated May 24, 2015 at 6 a.m.
Video by Yi Lee for The Victoria Advocate
SAN ANTONIO - Courtney Soliz woke up early to a text message asking if she wanted to go to Port Aransas.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision on a carefree spring break day.
The 17-year-old was weeks away from her graduation day and wanted a break from homework and work.
She asked her dad whether she could go to the beach with four friends.
He said yes, as long as she promised to be careful.
She couldn't find a bikini bottom, so she went to Target with her friend Nicole Slavik, 17, and bought a new bathing suit.
By that time, it had started to rain, but friends already at the beach assured them the weather was nice.
The girls picked up tacos and went home to wait for the boys to come over. Jake Padilla and Jesse Huron, both 18, met Courtney's dad, who wanted to make sure Jake would be a responsible driver.
The teens were driving down U.S. Highway 77 in a Ford F-250 when it started to rain even more.
It was hard to see the road, and she was getting really nervous.
At 10:30 a.m. March 21, just as the truck reached Refugio County, something happened that would change Courtney's life.
"We really thought nothing like that would happen to us," she said while lying in a hospital bed in Children's Hospital of San Antonio.
A spring break outing
She remembers taking her seat belt off to take a nap during the trip. Her boyfriend, Blayke Phillips, 18, took his seat belt off because he was changing the radio from the back seat.
"We didn't think anything of it. We were just thinking we were going to make it safe," she said.
But the truck hydroplaned and hit a curb.
As the truck flipped several times, Courtney was ejected from the vehicle and landed on the pavement.
Miraculously, Blayke landed in a muddy section of the grass median. Like the others, who were buckled in, he suffered minor bumps and bruises.
"I remember waking up. I had landed on the ground and was screaming for help," Courtney said.
A nurse came to help her, saying she had seen the whole thing.
"She promised me that everything would be OK," she said.
Courtney couldn't move without feeling massive pain in her pelvis.
She was transported by ambulance to DeTar Hospital Navarro in Victoria, where her mom was at work. Her dad, Bill Ruiz, drove to the hospital right away.
Surgery, then recovery
Courtney was flown to University Hospital in San Antonio and was immediately prepped so surgeons could repair internal injuries to her bowels and bladder. She also had broken at least six ribs on her left side.
A few days later, she underwent major surgery on her pelvis and hip that lasted more than 12 hours.
Doctors said she might have torn her ACL and meniscus, but treatment on her knee would have to wait.
She was in the intensive care unit for two weeks.
April 17, she arrived at Children's Hospital of San Antonio for rehabilitation.
Courtney could barely move in her bed, but she was determined.
"My goal is to get back to the life I had," she said during an hour-long physical therapy session in early May. The former volleyball player endured about four hours of rigorous therapy six days a week.
Courtney's mother, Yvonne Ruiz, rarely left her side.
Photos of family and friends filled the walls in Courtney's hospital room.
She enjoyed frequent visits from her cousin, who lives in San Antonio, and her grandmother from Yorktown.
Many times, the family would pray together.
"God gives her the strength that she needs to make it," her mother said.
Courtney woke up every morning ready for therapy, and by the afternoon, was exhausted.
Her pain fluctuated from almost bearable to a point in which she winced and whimpered even while on a steady dose of medication.
She suffered setbacks, but her mother encouraged her.
"Push yourself. You can do it," Ruiz said while watching her daughter grab onto a rail and cringe.
Courtney knew she had to work her muscles to regain her strength.
"It's amazing how the body can heal itself," Ruiz said.
Therapy would prepare Courtney for the time when she could walk again.
"Everybody heals differently," said physical therapist Erin Hoekstra. "Knowing her motivation and dedication, we can only expect for her to have a wonderful outcome."
Hoekstra said Courtney's attitude and personality helped her to push through rehabilitation.
Within three weeks, Courtney had healed enough to sit up and move from her bed to a wheelchair.
May 8, she was released from the hospital and returned to her Victoria home.
She missed her younger brother and sister and had a craving for rice from Tokyo Grill.
She missed her Chevrolet Tahoe, too, but it will be a while before she can drive again.
Life will be different.
The family, like most, wasn't prepared for the huge unexpected medical expenses but continue to do their best.
They rushed to prepare their home for Courtney's return. Her dad built her a ramp at the house, so she would have access in her wheelchair. She also can't sleep upstairs in her bedroom.
"It's just the little things that we take for granted," Ruiz said. "The world was on pause for the whole family."
Courtney said she doesn't know whether she could have done anything differently.
"We're thankful to God that she's here with us," her mother said. "We always tell her that there was a guardian angel looking out for her."
Courtney said she wants to find the nurse who stopped to help her after the accident, so she can thank her.
Even before the accident, Courtney had anticipated going to college and training to be a nurse like her mother.
Reaching those goals will be harder, but the Texas A&M Aggie fan is up for the challenge. She believes she will eventually be able to bear weight and stand on her own, then walk, but doctors are hesitant to predict how she will recover.
Two months ago, Courtney didn't know whether she would survive, let alone walk the stage at graduation.
Friday, the day before her 18th birthday, she graduated from Crossroads Christian School as valedictorian.
She was the only graduate at the new high school. The Family Worship Center was filled with her friends and family.
"She tried harder every day, and she wanted to get better, so she can come home to see everybody here," Blayke, her boyfriend, said. "It was really inspirational."
During the ceremony, a song Courtney played on repeat while recovering in the hospital was performed. She watched from the front row in her cap and gown as Christy Jeson sang, "Don't quit. Don't give in. You're an overcomer."
After a tearful scripture reading, three classmates spoke about how much Courtney has inspired them.
Blayke pushed Courtney up to the front of the church in her wheelchair, and she was handed a microphone.
Courtney thanked her mentor and principal Shannon Mitchamore for helping her prepare for college and being a friend.
A self-described overachiever, she said before the accident she was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA by always focusing on her grades.
"I was scared after the accident that I wouldn't be able to graduate in time, but I did it," she said. "I can do anything I set my mind to."
Mitchamore wiped away tears and spoke directly to Courtney, "Don't listen to anything negative. You have a future, and you have a vision. You need to keep working toward it because you're a fighter and an over-comer. We love you."
Courtney wheeled herself to the front to receive her diploma as the audience gave her a standing ovation.
Her mother walked up to the front to thank everyone for their love and support.
"I knew when this happened," she said, looking at Courtney. "I knew you were going to make it. You're going to do well in life because God has a plan for you."