LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A 2008 study by the CDC points to 58 car-surfing deaths and more than 40 serious emergencies from mostly teens riding on top of a moving vehicle.
One 15-year-old from Clovis, New Mexico, is lucky to be alive after an impulsive ride with friends could have, at the very least, changed her life forever.
When you think of car-surfing, you might think of some crazy stunts on YouTube. But you don't have to be standing on a moving car and speeding along a highway for this to be deadly.
It was the last day of school before the Christmas break at Clovis High School. Surveillance video showed 2 girls hopping onto the trunk of the car for a ride across that empty school parking lot. When the driver made a sharp turn, Dakota Revell fell from the back of the car.
Dr. Laszlo Nagy, a pediatric neurosurgeon and Texas Tech Physician, said her head hit the pavement. The fall was just a few feet, but Dr. Nagy said, "Just a fall like this can cause significant head injury." The surveillance video also shows the driver and another passenger running from the car to see what happened to their friend. They found her lying on the pavement, bleeding from the ear.
"There is something called contrecoup, a French word called the opposite hit," Dr. Tiva Kasemsri, a Pediatric Intensivist at UMC, said.
It means that upon impact, the brain still moves, bouncing from the left side where Dakota's ear hit the ground and was bleeding, to the right side where the brain hit the skull and was badly bruised.
Dr. Tiva (his nickname) adds, "It's just another non-moving object that the brain hits."
"They told me they were going to airlift her to the hospital and they already knew they were going to send her to Lubbock," Veronica Revell said.
Dakota was 14 at the time. She was accustomed to 'flying' across a gym mat in cheerleading competitions. At football games, her stunt partner would throw her way into the air. Her landing was mostly perfect, although sometimes, she'd stumble.
But no stunt was ever as dangerous as that brief ride on a moving car.
Dr. Tiva says when she arrived at UMC, the prognosis was grim, "Oh, we didn't know if she was going to live."
Veronica, her mother and a nurse in Clovis, understood the danger of a brain injury like that.
She says, "When the brain swells, it needs room to grow and expand." That's why Dakota was rushed into brain surgery where Dr. Nagy removed a large piece of her skull to make room for that swelling. Those were the most difficult days for a mother to watch.
"Her whole head, her face, everything swelled. That was really hard," Veronica said.
And even when the swelling went down, the skull cap was fitted back into place, and Dakota showed signs that she would live, Dr. Nagy says the outlook was still dim, "We can take the clot out, but those bruises have their own story."
"I was like, what kind of life is she going to have after this when you have a brain injury? So many things can happen," Veronica said. "When she started talking, when she stated laughing at her sisters, teasing them like she does, that's when I knew she was still there. She was still Dakota."
After 4 weeks at UMC and 2 weeks in rehab, Dakota is home in Clovis again. Even now, she still goes to physical therapy once a week to strengthen her short term memory and communication skills.
But when our cameras were there one Saturday in April, all that mattered was the Prom, something no one could imagine 6 months earlier.
"She is a miracle. Just seeing her, I can't wait to see her dressed up tonight," Teresa Gomez, Dakota's grandmother, said.
It was a celebration and a new beginning, but not without a big reminder on her wall. Dakota keeps a framed picture in her room of what she looked like in that hospital bed with the sign – FALL RISK- taped on the door. She doesn't want to forget that one afternoon in December when a poor decision could have ended everything.
I asked her as she was primping for the prom, "Do you look at life differently now?" Dakota said, "A lot differently than before. Fun things that could be fun aren't worth the things that could happen."
As we watch Dakota's sisters putting on her make-up and fixing her hair, Veronica told me with tears in her eyes, "To see what she is now, compared to what she was, we're just blessed. I'm so grateful that's where they sent her. I don't know whether she would be as well as she is now, if they didn't have the resources and funding to provide all that."
Finally, Dakota makes a grand entrance in her prom dress and twirls to the "oohs" and "ahhs" from her family and friends.
As her grandmother asks for the first hug, we can hear Veronica whisper to Dakota's prom date, "You take care of my girl."
Tanner isn't just her date, he has been her cheerleading stunt partner for years. The two pose arm in arm with big smiles as they tell everyone, "Goodbye!"
And as they walk out that door, Veronica said with big tears, "She's proof that there are amazing doctors there. They saved her. They made it where she can come home."