SOUTHWEST RANCHES (CBS4 ) – Monica Pong still remembers each moment of the instant her life changed.
“I remember the whole day very, very clearly,” she said. “It plays in my head all the time.”
Pong, 18, recalls the event but doesn’t dwell on the injury she sustained last October 20th. She was giving a tour to a group of prospective students at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said a car driven by Marie Baguidy, 71, suddenly careened in reverse and slammed into Pong, pinning her against a concrete column. Her right leg was severed. Pong never saw the car coming.
Paramedics rushed Pong to Memorial Regional Hospital. She spent two weeks there and another two weeks in a Miami hospital undergoing rehab for her injury.
She admits the first several weeks and months were incredibly difficult.
“When it first happened, like every time I closed my eyes that’s all I could see but I moved to a point where I was able to accept it,” she told CBS 4’s Carey Codd. “I can’t keep asking myself why because I’ll never get an answer and that’s only gonna put me down.”
And Monica Pong is rarely down for long.
Almost as soon as the accident happened Monica set two goals — walk again and graduate on time.
Less than 8 months later, she accomplished both.
Weeks after the accident, Pong began intense physical therapy three times a week preparing to wear a state-of-the-art prosthetic.
She remembers the day she returned to school wearing the prosthetic — February 17.
“I went to school with the leg and everybody was very shocked but it was great,” she said. “It felt so exhilarating. It was amazing.”
But Pong said it’s been an up-and-down journey with the new appendage.
“It’s been an obstacle,” she said. “It’s been difficult but I’ve been able to get back up every time I felt bad or down because I have so much love and support from my friends and my family.”
She showed us the new leg — called a C-leg — during an interview at her attorneys’ office on Tuesday. She arrived in shorts and is clearly becoming comfortable with her new look.
“I’m not embarrassed about it,” she said. “I’m not sad about it anymore. I have my days where I sit there and think about it. I’m not embarrassed about it. It’s me. It’s part of me.”
She also has maintained her sense of humor. When we asked to see her leg, she quipped, “Thank God I shaved this morning.”
Pong also maintained her dedication to her studies.
Despite intense rehab and the emotional trauma of the accident, she completed her classes and earned a 3.8 GPA.
Last week, Pong walked across a stage at Nova Southeastern University and received her diploma.
“In my mind, I was like I’m gonna do it, I can do it and I will do it,” Pong said. “I made it happen.”
Pong is focused on going away to college in the fall at Sante Fe Community College in Gainesville and eventually matriculating to the University of Florida. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine.
Her attorney, Jay Cohen, is focused on making sure Monica is taken care of with new prosthetics and all the treatment she’ll need for the rest of her life.
He filed suit against the Archdiocese of Miami, Baguidy and the owner of the car that hit her.
“The people behind the school want to take of Monica,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, that’s not always the case when their insurance companies get involved.”
Cohen said the school should have had better safety measures to protect Monica.
“No barriers were in place to protect the students, pedestrians, visitors, teachers,” Cohen said. “And those barriers — incidentally — are now up at the school. And I applaud the school. I compliment the school for doing what they should have done. For Monica, it was just too late.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese said they are working on a resolution of the lawsuit. Attempts to reach the driver of the car were unsuccessful.
Pong is rarely without a smile on her face. Her spirit and determination are solidly in place. She knows her life should have been different but promises to make the best of things.
“This is who I am now,” Pong said. “This is what I look like. This is me and I just have to take it and move on.”
Cohen has no doubt she will.
“That spirit of getting through this has always been there,” Cohen said. “She’s got hurdles to overcome. She’s got numerous obstacles but if anybody can do it, I think Monica Pong can do it.”