GREAT FALLS -- Hope Maiden doesn't see herself as tough.
Yes, the Great Falls teen nearly died in a wreck on Aug. 19, 2006. Her body was hurled from the Chevrolet Tahoe she was riding in. Both of her lungs collapsed. She broke both arms, both wrists and three ribs. She fractured two lower vertebrae and her pelvis. Her skull was a checkerboard of cracks. She spent 63 days at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte -- including 28 days in intensive care -- and has undergone 18 surgeries because of her injuries.
"Not really," she said. "Everybody says, 'You gotta be tough to go through what you went through. But I don't see it like that. I just see it as, 'I did what I had to do.'"
This girl named Hope turned 15 last week. She wants to drive and begs her father, Chip, to take her to get a learning permit. The wreck left her blind in her right eye, and she can't move her right arm.
But she doesn't want pity. In fact, she spent nearly a year avoiding that. She wants to be treated the same way she was before the wreck, before the blind eye and the physical therapy.
She's talking about her recovery now, not because she's looking for sympathetic attention but because she wants to tell her peers to drive safely and wear seat belts.
Hope had been an eighth-grader at Great Falls Middle School for two weeks on the day of the wreck. That day, a Saturday, she was at a car wash fundraiser for the high school marching band. Hope was in the color guard.
A group of four girls, including Hope, left the car wash at the Great Falls Rescue Squad to buy some soft drinks. Then, they decided to drive out to the country to see one girl's boyfriend. Hope remembers the music blasting inside the Tahoe as they headed down Golf Course Road.
She doesn't remember much about the crash.
"That whole day to me is a blur," she said. "I'm kind of glad I don't remember anything, really."
The Tahoe flipped. Hope, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the SUV. So was another girl, who suffered injuries as serious as Hope's.
Hope was flown to CMC.
Chip Maiden, 53, was at an estate auction in Irmo when the landscaper's cell phone rang. It was Hope's mother calling to relay the terrible news.
"It's a father's worst nightmare," Chip said. "That's an old cliché thing (to say). But basically it was. When the doctors came in and told me the long list of things that was wrong with her, I worried about whether she would even make it through the night."
Three days after the crash, Chip started writing journal entries on the Caring Bridge Web site. From a computer in the hospital's seventh floor resource library, he updated friends and loved ones on Hope's condition.
His 70 entries brought 16,000 responses, many from people offering prayers. And some from folks he didn't know.
Hope was sedated for most of her stay in intensive care. She later moved to progressive care, and she remembers the kind nurses who took care of her in the pediatric ward of 7B. She still keeps in touch with them.
Hope calls her recovery "the hardest thing I ever did."
Friends such as 17-year-old Brittany Vinson say "God was with her."
"She's a tough one," Brittany said. "She pulled through it."
Chip Maiden also sees his only daughter as tough. After all, she's the same girl one of her doctors dubbed the "warrior princess."
But Hope doesn't see her struggle as one of fortitude as much as survival.
She didn't want people to see her with her neck brace, which she had to wear for five months after leaving the hospital. She had to go to the middle school homecoming in a wheelchair.
"There's Hope. There's Hope," people said.
But the recognition only upset her.
"I used to be just like all them," she said. "And I still wanted to be. I didn't want to be the girl in the wheelchair. I didn't want to be their handicapped friend."
She studied at home through last summer, finishing eighth grade. She spent most of her time watching television and or staring at the computer. She missed her social life. Her friends came to visit and she wanted to leave with them, but couldn't.
She persevered with support from her mom, dad and friends.
"I couldn't have done it without them," Hope said. "I really couldn't have."
Rebuilding a life
Recovery came gradually through trips to the mall and the movies. Chip Maiden's measure of his daughter's turnaround was when she rode a Jet Ski -- one of her favorite pastimes -- last summer on Lake Wateree.
"When I saw her ride it again," he said, "I knew that it was gonna be all right."
Hope has eased back into a regular teenage life, counting pennies in the car with Brittany to pay for a burrito at the Taco Bell drive-through.
But she's become an intense backseat driver. She tells her friends to wear their seat belts and slow down.
Her goal now is to finish high school, go to the College of Charleston and study criminal justice.
When Hope began high school in the fall, she had the option of following a plan for disabled students. She refused. Although her right arm doesn't work, her right hand does. Because she's right-handed, she uses her left arm to lift her right arm on the desk and she writes with her right hand.
"The big thing about her is her spirit," said Great Falls High Principal Corey Murphy. "She's not having any of that pity party. She's not having any special treatment."
Before Murphy met Hope, he'd heard her list of injuries. He prepared himself to meet a visibly disabled child, telling himself not to wince and to make her feel welcome.
Then, she floored him.
"She walked in (and said), 'Hey, how's it going?'" Murphy recalled. "I was like, 'Well, Hold on. Where's the young lady I'm supposed to be meeting?' I thought she was going to be frail. But no. The girl came through the door, and she was ready to roll."
Hope's success at school -- socially and academically -- masks her struggles.
"If you didn't hear the story, she would just be a great high school kid," Murphy said. "Once you hear the story, it's like, 'Wow.'"
Although Hope might not say she's tough, she doesn't have to look far for another word to describe her.
As her principal says: "She lives up to her name."