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January 25, 2011

Dr. Pepper aids injured NM EMT's dream

By Kathaleen Roberts
Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE, N.M. — Vanessa Carrillo awoke from a coma with a thirst for her favorite soft drink.

Now she's getting some corporate help to quench that craving and to follow her dream of attending medical school.

When the 19 -year-old emergency medical technician woke from a medically induced coma on the morning of Dec. 15, her first request was for a sip of Dr Pepper.

The La Cienega resident was seriously injured in a high-profile crash on Interstate 25 when a drunken, wrong-way driver plowed into the ambulance Carrillo was driving. Carrillo, who suffered dozens of broken bones in her face and legs, says she remembers nothing about the crash.

Carillo's post-coma craving for Dr Pepper was reported in a local newspaper. And since then, friends, neighbors and businesses have bombarded her with more than 100 bottles of Dr Pepper, sweet comfort to aid in her long recovery.

"I always drink Dr Pepper," Carrillo said in a telephone interview this week. "I just like it because it's really sweet. I finished drinking all the ones here."

When Stuart Feltman, vice president of sales for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., learned about Carrillo, he was determined to help. Feltman forwarded The Santa Fe New Mexican story about her love for Dr Pepper to the national headquarters in Plano, Texas.

With cooperation of both New Mexico Walmart and Quick Stop convenience stores, Dr Pepper agreed to donate 50 cents of every case sold to an education fund set up specifically for her. The deal includes all 14 New Mexico Quick Stops and every Walmart in the state. Shoppers can expect to see displays pop up with Carrillo's photograph.

"We're still working out the details, so we don't know how long this will go on," Feltman said.

"This girl was doing everything the right way," he continued. "She's a young woman, but I bet you she weighs all of 80 pounds. She knew what she wanted to do, and she was doing it. Then somebody made a very crappy decision, and she could have lost it all."

For the record, Carrillo says she stands 5 feet tall and weighs 92 pounds. And she consumes "a couple" of Dr Peppers a day.

She sips her Dr Peppers between watching TV and twice-a-week physical and occupational therapy sessions. Sometimes the therapy hurts.

"I broke 12 bones in my left leg and 15 in my face and one in my right femur and three in my tibia," she explained. "I have a bunch of rods holding them together."

Back to school

Despite the injuries, Carrillo plans to start school at Santa Fe Community College next week, where she will be studying for her intermediate EMT license.

"I want to be a doctor," the 2009 Santa Fe High School graduate said. "I've always wanted to help people."

She traced that interest to her mother, who had brain cancer and died in May 2006. "It was (from) helping her and just watching the doctors work on her was inspirational," she said.

Since news of the accident and her subsequent injuries, Carrillo has become somewhat of a local celebrity. People recognize her in the grocery store.

"It's kind of cool that everybody knows who I am," she said. "They just say that they're praying for me usually and (wishing me) good luck."

The driver who hit Carrillo in the Dec. 14 crash, 26-yearold Kylene Holmes of El Paso, died at the scene. A toxicology report by the state Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque stated Holmes had a blood-alcohol content of 0.26.

Holmes' passenger, 38-yearold Jennifer Michelle Belvin, survived the crash.

Holmes had been driving the wrong way - south in I-25's northbound lanes - for about 20 miles and at speeds of more than 100 mph before she drove her Nissan into the ambulance Carrillo was driving back to Santa Fe from the Albuquerque area.

About an hour before the crash, a bouncer at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame bar and restaurant in downtown Santa Fe tried to talk Holmes and Belvin out of driving away because they appeared to be too intoxicated.

Carrillo, after she finishes the EMT program this semester, wants to go to the University of New Mexico in the fall. Although she uses a wheelchair now, she says she can already see progress.

"When I got home, I couldn't move my legs at all," she said. "I can move them; I can do just about anything now."

Standing is forbidden for the present, according to doctors' orders. But Carrillo is already looking toward the future.

"I'm not allowed to put weight on them," she said, adding, "I bet if I tried, I could."

In the meantime, she'll never go thirsty, at least if Feltman has his way.

"As long as I'm here, she's got free Dr Peppers."

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