Kelly Blanton’s ventilator drones softly in rhythm as she sits motionless in her wheelchair. The 18-year-old misses horseback riding along the road outside her home in Taylorsville, N.C.
But, for now, the days when Blanton’s mother said she “had the world on a string” are gone. Despite her current circumstances, Blanton, a member of nearby Three Forks Baptist Church, does not question God’s plans for her.
“It’s not my place to understand everything,” she said. “When [God] wants me to understand why this happened, [and] what’s going to happen in the future, He’ll let me know in His own time.”
Blanton’s long, dark hair frames her face as she smiles and rolls her eyes while her mother, Geri, brags about how her daughter has handled the accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Geri admits she doesn’t know if she could handle paralysis nearly as well. And Kelly, she says, rarely complains.
“As hard as it can be for me to look at my daughter’s life just jerked away from her,” said Geri, “I can’t imagine what it would be like if it was my life jerked away from me. … I just don’t think I would be that way.”
It was during a practice run before the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, Okla., that Blanton was thrown from her horse, Bandit.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Kelly Blanton, left, seen here with her mom, Geri, desires to seek God’s plan for her life.
“I remember thinking I’ll just fall off and this will be OK,” she said. “But I landed on my forehead and then my whole body bent back behind me. … I was flipping down the arena, and I just landed in the dirt. I wasn’t really concerned about not being able to move. I was just concerned with not being able to breathe. I thought the wind had just been knocked out of me, but that’s not what it was at all.”
On that day in July 2011, her plans for the future were put on hold.
“I remember the accident fully, but sometimes I wish I didn’t,” said Blanton, who now depends on her mother to scratch an itch on her arm or wipe her nose.
The outgoing, attractive teenager seemed to have everything before the accident. She lived an active lifestyle and planned to attend N.C. State University last fall. She was captain of the high school tennis team, threw the discus on the track team and was involved in more clubs and activities than her youth pastor had time to read at a church event honoring the 2011 graduates.
She also loved to compete in roping and barrel racing at rodeos. And she was good at it. Now, however, she can only watch Bandit and her other horses as they chomp grass behind her home.
After her accident, Blanton was transferred from a hospital in Oklahoma City to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She spent months there receiving treatment and continues to make routine visits.
Her mother describes her daughter’s condition as a “C4 spinal cord injury that is incomplete.” Translation: Her spinal cord is not severed, and she has some feeling below the neck, but she is unable to move her arms and legs.
“The changes I’ve seen [are] in the strength in my arm … and then strength in my leg and things like that,” she said. “I’ve also seen strength in my diaphragm. I can breathe more and more [on my own] every day.”
“Incomplete is a good thing,” Geri added. “She does have some feeling. There’s always a chance with incomplete that those [nerve] connections can be made again.”
Since the accident, Blanton has been surrounded by friends, family, church members and her community. People throughout the area lined the road she lives on to welcome her back home when she returned from the Shepherd Center.
Volunteers installed a wheelchair ramp in front of her house and helped modify inside so she could navigate more easily. The church and community also have held a variety of fundraisers to help her family with expenses.
Most days find one or more of Blanton’s friends stopping by for a visit while her parents work. Her mother is a supervisor at the local post office and her father, Michael, is a truck driver. She also has two brothers: Michael, 25, and Marcus, 24.
On this day, Lakelyn Elder is relaxing on Blanton’s bed keeping a watchful eye on her friend.
The two young women have known each other since they were “babies,” Elder said.
“If you’re [at her house] you’ll find a gang of students that huddle with her every day,” said Brandon Watson, Blanton’s youth pastor at Three Forks. “There are at least two to 10 kids that are always over there, every day just hanging out with her. It’s been that way since she’s come home.
“Kelly is a very selfless person. She’s kind of attracted those people around her,” he added.
“I know that her days have challenges, but she handles them well, and she’s been a great testimony to our students and to our church.”
Blanton also has gained new friends since her injury. Morgan Patton, 19, a fellow rodeo competitor, was the first person to reach Blanton after she fell off her horse. She helped stabilize Blanton’s neck. Though the two didn’t know each other before the accident, they have been nearly inseparable since. Patton recently returned to Georgia for college, where she is studying nursing.
Blanton also is pondering her future. She is struggling with whether she should become a veterinarian or commit to some type of ministry. For now she is taking courses at a community college in Hickory, but she plans to eventually transfer to N.C. State. While she is leaning toward being a veterinarian, she also has a strong desire to share her story and faith with others.
“The only easier part now [since the accident] is I do have a doorway into telling people about Christ because people would ask me about what happened,” Blanton said.
“And they see I don’t blame God. Then they see God through me.”
This past July, Blanton returned to Shawnee to attend the rodeo event where she was injured. She thanked the people of Oklahoma for their prayers and support while she was in the hospital. She also shared her testimony at her church – with her new friend, Patton, by her side – and expressed her appreciation for all that her church has done for her.
“I’ve learned how much my church family loves me,” Blanton said. “… People come up and say, ‘I’ve been thinking about you.’ It’s always happened when I’ve needed it the most.”
Blanton, and those who care for her, remain optimistic that she’ll walk again and ride her beloved Bandit. Her pastor, Carson Moseley, believes the Lord has great things in store for the young woman.
“She’s determined,” said Moseley, who said he misses seeing Blanton ride her horse up and down the road outside the church. “If God be willing He’s already put within her the will and desire to walk again. But I think He’s also put within her the acceptance of ‘Whatever … whatever You [God] want to do.’”
“I pray the Lord will use Kelly to touch lives. I pray [the accident] will give her many opportunities … to tell her story, to touch her world in the way that she can.”
She already seems to be off to a great start.