Nearly a year ago, Bill and Lexie Van Pelt's world turned upside down.
The couple's worst nightmare became reality on July 22, 2009, when they learned their only child had been critically injured in a single-vehicle wreck on Hardy McManus Road just minutes from their home.
Haley, a rising senior at Greenbrier High School, was driving to band camp when she ran off the road and overcorrected. Her Saturn sedan slid backward off the road, the driver's side door slamming into a tree. She sustained life-threatening injuries, including two skull factures and a brain injury.
"You're just numb," Bill Van Pelt said. "You're kind of in shock, I guess."
Lexie Van Pelt was in the band room waiting for her daughter to arrive and heard people discussing an accident that had just taken place.
"She put two and two together and hoped it wasn't four," Bill Van Pelt said. "But she got to the scene (and) pretty soon figured out it was Haley's car and called me."
The Greenbrier clarinet player was in critical condition for about two weeks at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital before being transferred to the Atlanta-based Shepherd Center. She returned to her Evans home just shy of her 18th birthday on Oct. 25.
Doctors have told the Van Pelts that their daughter is minimally conscious or in a semi-conscious state.
Since February, Haley has been taken to Walton Rehabilitation Health System two to threes times a week for outpatient therapy, including physical, speech and occupational therapy.
Bill Van Pelt said Haley has gained more control of her body and strength in her muscles. She can now use a standing frame during therapy and at home, where caregivers help the family.
"She's just made what I would call slow, steady progress," Lexie Van Pelt said. "It's all been in a positive direction."
As part of her therapy, Haley, who also was a member of Greenbrier's swim team, goes swimming once a week at the Family Y's therapy pool on Wheeler Road.
Haley also has recently been undergoing neurofeedback treatment at a North Carolina facility to try to regulate electrical activity in her brain, said her father, a project engineering manager at Savannah River Site.
"Her brain is still kind of sleepy," her father said. "This treatment will try to train her to make less of those brain waves, which should help wake her up."
The Van Pelts also plan to enroll Haley in a special needs class at Evans High on a limited schedule in August.
Since the accident, Haley's parents said, there has been tremendous support from Greenbrier's band and swim team, as well as churches Haley has been involved with, such as Burns Memorial United Methodist Church and Wesley United Methodist Church's youth group.
"I think our faith has sustained us through this," Bill Van Pelt said. "Our church family and all the support of so many people reminds you that when difficult times come, people come together."
Last August, Greenbrier students organized a car wash and raised more than $1,000 to help with the Van Pelts' medical expenses, said Greenbrier band director Michael Katterjohn.
Greenbrier's marching band also kept a spot open last year for the clarinet section leader, who first joined the band in middle school.
"I'm not sure we're going to do that this year, but we will have things along the way to help us remember her, because a lot of the kids still know her," said Katterjohn.
Band members and friends continue to visit Haley at home and post on her online journal at www.caringbridge.org/visit/prayersforhaley.
"We've learned that family doesn't always mean you're biological family," Lexie Van Pelt said.
Haley's senior class voted her "Most Unforgettable" along with Greenbrier seniors Chris Smith and Scott Gillen, both of whom died in 2009.
Haley and her parents attended Greenbrier's graduation ceremony in May at the James Brown Arena.
The Van Pelt family also recently went to see The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and hope to watch the next Harry Potter movie when it comes out in theaters. Haley is a fan of both book and film series.
"We plan to go to football games and some of those kinds of things in the fall -- more of those sort of normal activities that we used to do," Bill Van Pelt said.
Haley Van Pelt was a junior at Greenbrier when this photo was taken for the yearbook.
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