LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - February 7, 2016 is a date that will forever be etched into the minds of Chelsea Hogue and her family. It was the night her world changed forever.
Hogue and a friend were driving on Taylorsville Road in Louisville when Jose Munoz Aguilar, 32, crashed into their car. Police said Aguilar was drunk behind the wheel.
Hogue had to be cut out of the car by firefighters. She was rushed to University of Louisville Hospital, where she fell into a coma. Doctors told her family she had a traumatic brain injury, or more specifically, a Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI).
Aguilar spent just a few days in jail before he posted bail. He was released to ICE under an immigration detainer. One day later, Aguilar was released from ICE's custody. When asked in 2016 about Aguilar's release, ICE said Aguilar had "no prior significant misdemeanor or felony conviction record, he does not currently meet ICE enforcement priorities."
Aguilar failed to show up to his next court appearance, and hasn't been seen since.
"If anyone watching knows, who knows if they would know him, or if anyone knows him, maybe they would feel it in their heart to turn him in," Hogue said.
After Hogue woke up from the coma, she had to relearn everything, including walking, talking, and eating.
Now in 2018, Chelsea told WAVE 3 News she's far from the woman who was lying in a hospital bed, and she's never given up hope.
"At first, I was thinking 'why me, why did this happen to me?,'" Hogue said. "But now I've come to the point in my recovery where I'm actually thankful for what happened to me, because it showed me that my boyfriend is marriage material and that my family is wonderful and I feel like I learned things."
WAVE 3 News interviewed Hogue and her boyfriend Joey Osborne in early 2017. At the time of the interview, Hogue was barely able to speak. Fast forward a few months to September of 2017, when a Lexington doctor performed surgery so she could speak again.
"Recently, I had voice surgery and I might have another one," Hogue said. "The doctors said my voice would be much better after surgery and I thought I would have to see it when I believe it. But what do you know, it worked! Joey had to speak for me, but now, look at me. I'm speaking to you without somebody doing translations."
"How does that make you feel?," WAVE 3 News asked.
"So independent," she replied.
Even though Hogue had a couple of tough years, she said she believes it's going to get better.
"Follow my story from the beginning and you will learn over time, don't give up," Hogue said. "No matter where you are, it's going to get better. I mean, it did for me."
Hogue credits the Trauma Team at University of Louisville Hospital and the team at Frazier Rehab for greatly assisting during her recovery. She also mentioned her current speech, physical, and occupational therapy providers, Kort and Capacity Care.
"My speech and occupational [therapy] is at Capacity Care in Louisville and they're quite wonderful," Hogue explained. "My physical therapy is in Shepherdsville, Kort-Bullitt County, and they're quite amazing."
Hogue said she wanted to go back to school after the accident. But then she realized she had another goal; she wanted to drive again. But in order to drive, she must find a job.
"Rehab is helping me, at first, helping me go back to school, but then I asked if they could train me to drive, and they said 'yes, but first you have to be working and driving is your sub-goal for working. You know, transportation to your job,'" Hogue said. "So I said, 'school? Ehh, I'll work, ha.' So, they haven't found me a job yet, but they're working on it."
Before the crash, Hogue worked at a restaurant. When she was finally able to get back on her feet, and ready for a job, Chelsea said she wanted to go back to the restaurant business. After a shadow experience though, she said she changed her mind.
"At first I thought that restaurant work was the end all, be all of working, but rehab had me do a job shadow and I learned that no, no, no... I don't like it anymore," Chelsea said. "They're [rehab] helping me find another job."
At the time of the accident in 2016, Hogue was studying to be a nurse. Now, she's trying to figure out if that's still her calling.
"They're also going to let me shadow a nurse because nursing was my main goal before, so lets see if it's still what I want," she said.
As for her main goal in life, Hogue said she wants to help people. She also wants people to know that even if something happens to you, don't let that get you down; there is always hope.
"So I would say, school for nursing is my goal, and working," Hogue said. "Right now, I start a job, but eventually, maybe a CNA then get my BSN, Bachelors Science of Nursing, to be a registered nurse that way I can work in Louisville Trauma or Frazier and tell families or new patients that I have a brain injury and look at me now."
Hogue said she's also toying with the idea of being an inspirational speaker someday.
"My mom has mentioned that I should do inspirational speaking because I can innovate people to push through the hard stuff," Hogue said. "I think it's a good idea."
Hogue couldn't leave the interview without reiterating an important message that so many still ignore.
"I would also tell people even if you have had one drink, call a cab," she said. "It's not worth it. You might kill another person, give them a brain injury, or kill yourself."
As a way to combat drunk driving, anyone who creates a new Lyft account and uses the coupon code RISEUPCHELSEA will get a $50 credit, to be used in $5 increments. This adds up to $5 off 10 rides.
Pushing through the hard stuff is something Chelsea never wanted to be good at. Her mom said she's always smiling, and from the half hour WAVE 3 News spent with her, we could tell smiling is something she loves to do, and frowning is something she rarely does.
You can follow Chelsea's journey to recovery here.