In the fall of 2016, Molly Welch took an Uber to a Starbucks off Haynes Bridge Road in Alpharetta. There was nothing all that unusual about that. It was a favorite spot, one she visited at least twice a week.
Inside she ordered the usual, a tall cup of chai tea, and took a seat. With just one good arm, there was no way to manage her cane and carry her drink to a table.
That morning, Mike Roddy and Rick Perkins sat nearby watching, wondering about the mix of circumstances that rendered Welch, then just 21, barely able to walk or talk.
But instead of just wondering like so many of us do when we see someone with a disability, the two men struck up a conversation.
“What’s your story?” they asked her.
They say your story is what lies between birth and the day you die. In Starbucks that day, Molly began at that horrible moment on Feb. 9, 2008.
After a long weekend with family in Alpharetta, she was headed back to Auburn University, driving down I-85 south.
A journalism major, she was in her junior year and looking forward to writing articles for the school newspaper.
As she approached the exit that day, she remembered two interviews she’d recorded and decided to take a listen to get a jump on the writing.
“I was always thinking ahead,” she said.
Welch reached for the tape recorder in the seat beside her, and it hit the floor. She was trying to retrieve it when her car veered across the median and crashed head-on into an oncoming truck.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately nine people are killed each day in the United States and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.
Roddy and Perkins listened intently as Molly continued.
Doctors did their best to put her back together, but after she spent three weeks in a coma, they transferred her from East Alabama Hospital in Opelika to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center.
She was there for an entire month without making any progress. With her brain so badly injured, doctors doubted she’d ever walk or talk again. They sent her home with a webcam to document her progress. Perhaps familiar scents and sounds would help, they told her parents.
One day, nearly a month later as her sister, Maureen, played “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” at her bedside, Molly started mouthing the words.
Growing up Catholic, she’d sung that song a million times. Now she was about to realize its meaning.
With the webcam rolling, her parents contacted her doctor with the good news. Their daughter was back.
When it came to anything concerning Molly, Mary and John Welch were always on top of things. As Molly’s doctor looked on, they asked her to pet her toy poodle Biscuit and she did. Brush your hair, they told her. Molly brushed. Raise one finger for yes and two for no, they continued. Molly followed their instructions to the T.
About a week later, she returned to the Shepherd Center for more intense therapy. Three weeks after that, she was released to continue outpatient care at Pathways.
Molly remembered her faith. Prayer preceded every move as she willed herself to keep her balance, to keep going.
“My injury was so severe, I knew nothing could get me through this but God,” she said.
After falling away, Molly accepted an invitation from her mother to join her one Sunday at North Point Community Church.
“I fell in love with God all over again,” she said. “He is at the center of everything I do.”
It would take her nearly two more years before she could return to Auburn to complete work on her degree, but she did. In May 2011, Molly walked across the stage with her younger brother Paul leading the way.
“We graduated on the same day,” she said. “It was so cool. Words can’t describe it.”
Finding a job was hard, but three years later, Molly landed a job doing social media for a Chamblee advocacy company.
She enjoyed talking to people as much as she always did, but it wasn’t the same. No longer able to use her right arm, she struggled to write. Molly decided to use her gift of gab instead and share her message with others.
She was doing that when she met Perkins and Roddy at the Starbucks that fall day in 2016.
When she finished sharing her story, Roddy told her his company, NuTEQ Solutions, had the software that could help her create a public service announcement on the dangers of distracted driving and a nonprofit motivational speaking company.
Molly had been telling her story for years, hoping to prevent others from suffering the way she had. She liked the idea.
“He and his partner helped me do everything,” she said.
Shortly thereafter, she founded A Second Later.
“Life changes in a second,” she explained. “I was 21 when the accident happened, and I lost an entire decade to therapy. I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through.”
She was making headway, speaking at local schools and churches about the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of persevering in the face of adversity. Then, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. Invitations to speak were canceled and no new ones have come.
And yet, Molly Welch is holding on to the faith that has brought her thus far.
“God got me through this,” she said. “He will help me to continue to spread my message.”
Life can change on a dime. Keep your eyes on the road. It could save you a world of hurt and might even save your life.
Molly Welch is sure of that.
Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO REACH MOLLY
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