Hillary Coltharp

Difference Maker

From the time she was a little girl Hillary Coltharp had no trouble going after the things that she wanted in life. She had risen to the top of her career as a hair stylist and had become the “go to” girl for women all over Paducah.

“Hillary was that vibrant, beautiful, young woman who everyone dreams of being,” says friend Gretchen Morgan. “Her career had taken off like a rocket. If you didn’t schedule your next appointment with her at the time you saw her, you weren’t going to get in. She was the person to go to.”

All of that changed in a flash when at the age of 25 Hillary barely survived a horrendous car accident on Interstate 24 in Marshall County.

Hillary, running late to meet her parents for dinner at the lake, hadn’t taken time to fasten her seatbelt and was texting as she drove. Before she knew it, she lost control of her convertible and was thrown 75 feet from the car. She landed on her head in the emergency lane of westbound I-24 and miraculously did not break her neck.

However, her injuries were severe. They included a fractured skull, severe brain trauma, a collapsed lung and multiple broken bones. The damage was so significant that doctors gave Hillary only a .5% chance of survival, offering the Coltharp family very little hope to cling to.

Gretchen, a Paducah Police officer, was working on the evening of the accident. By the time she arrived at the hospital Hillary had been life-flighted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

In order to relieve pressure on Hillary’s brain doctors had to remove the entire front right temporal lobe. It was a risky procedure, but one that proved to save Hillary’s life.

From that moment on, Hillary began a journey through physical pain, emotional stress and the trials that follow patients who suffer from traumatic brain injuries.

As time progressed, Hillary grew weary of the grueling hours of therapy and rehabilitation. That fierce, independent spirit that was such a big part of who she was needed a place to be channeled

“Hillary would call me and say ‘I know there are kids who need to know what happened to me,’” Gretchen says.  “But at that time she wasn’t ready physically or emotionally to begin speaking publicly.”

For the first several years after the accident Hillary focused on healing and getting her body to do basic things like walking. Then in 2012 Paducah Tilghman High School presented an opportunity for Hillary to share her story to high school students there.

The school contacted the Paducah Police Department about speaking to students about the dangers of distracted driving. The timing of this seemed perfect for Hillary to get involved, so Gretchen contacted Shawn Coltharp, Hillary’s mother, and with input from Hillary, the three women outlined a presentation to take to the students at Tilghman.

That first speech was the beginning of the “Don’t Be InTEXTicated” program, which Hillary was inspired to start. Today, she has shared her story with over 20,000 people across the country through live speaking engagements and videos.

“If I could go back to September 1, 2007, I would have put my phone on silent and placed it in the glove box. Texting while driving can be the last second of your life. Please don’t let it happen to you,” reads an excerpt from her speech.

Each time she speaks, Hillary tells students about everything that she has lost, her career, her social life, memories of her youth and the birth of her son, as well as the loss of personal freedom that she once cherished. Yet in spite of everything she clings to her faith.

“A big part of my healing has come from my faith,” Hillary says. “I have to have faith that I’m going to heal. Without that I would not be alive.”

She has come a long way in the years since her accident, but the road ahead requires determination. No matter what she is working to overcome, Hillary tries to maintain a positive outlook that is filled with hope.

“If you’re negative about things, there’s no way you’re gong to find a positive horizon,” Hillary says. “Better to be a Positive Patty than a Debbie Downer.”

Serving as the face of the Don’t Be InTEXTicated program has brought a renewed sense of purpose to Hillary’s life. She’s excited about the New Year and all that it may bring.

“This is therapy for me. It’s doing great things for me emotionally because I know I’m helping to get this message out about how dangerous texting and driving is. I know I’m helping to save lives,” she says.

Hillary’s determination and desire to help others is what inspired VUE Magazine to select her as this month’s recipient of the Difference Maker award. She received $250 and will be given the chance to receive an additional $5,000 if selected as the Difference Maker of the Year. Half of that annual award will go to the charity of the winner’s choice. Nominations for Difference Maker awards can be submitted at inthevue.com. The program is sponsored by West Kentucky Garage Builders, Socially Present and VUE Magazine.

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