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Paralyzed UHS Student Rises from Wheelchair to Receive Diploma

Posted Date: 05/30/2023

Paralyzed UHS Student Rises from Wheelchair to Receive Diploma

Two years ago, Ernie Vance was a football and track athlete at United High School. That was when fate took an unexpected turn for him.

In the winter of 2021, Laredo’s subtropical climate was disrupted when all of Texas was hit with a severe arctic front. Temperatures dove below freezing, the power grid across the state was disabled, and Laredo experienced freezing rain and sleet for which the city was largely unprepared. 

On the night of February 14th, Ernie got out of work after being asked to come in on his day off. His father, Ron Vance, was driving him home when the icy road conditions caused their vehicle to swerve and slide off the road, rolling over into a ditch. Both were violently thrown from the vehicle. Knocked unconscious, Ernie awoke and found himself on his back staring at the sky and unable to move his legs. He tried crawling toward the road to get help, but soon passed out again. 

Ron Vance was also unconscious. When he came to, he immediately began looking for his son. When he found him, he realized his and Ernie’s phones had been thrown in the wreckage and couldn’t be found. The two were injured and stranded in sub-freezing temperatures. Luckily, another motorist approached and Ron was able to flag them down. It was another 15 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Ernie had a broken collar bone, two broken ribs, both his lungs were punctured, and his spine was completely fractured. Doctors gave him a 5 percent chance of ever being able to walk again.

Ernie has gone through surgeries and therapy over the last two years, and has begun to regain sensation in his legs. He is also working very hard on standing and walking. Doctors now give him a 50 percent chance of regaining his strength and ability to use his legs.

On Saturday, May 27th 2023, Ernie graduated from United High School. He chose to receive his diploma standing up.

It was an emotional and inspirational moment when Ernie went up the ramp to the stage, stood up from his wheelchair into a walker, and made a heroic effort to walk over to UISD District 7 Board Member Frank Castillo to receive his diploma. It was only the third time Ernie has stood up in two years. The entire audience and graduating class erupted in cheers and applause.

Graduation ceremonies are called commencements because they mark a beginning, as graduating students embark on their futures. For Ernie Vance, this day marks an entirely new beginning as he steps forward into the rest of his life fueled by strength and courage, and filled with hope. His achievement will forever shine as an example to his graduating class, and the entire United High School community, that anything is possible through perseverance, determination, and if you only just believe.

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