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Engineering student has new outlook on life after overcoming tragedy

Greg Power has no recollection of the moment that changed his life.

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Greg Power has no recollection of the moment that changed his life.

It was a late night in August 2007. Power, a mechanical engineering student who had scarcely returned from studying abroad in France, was the designated driver and had just dropped off a friend when he started to head home. Traveling near campus on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Power was making a lane change so that he could get into position to enter Interstate 35 North. That’s the last thing he remembers about that nightthe night a drunk driver smashed into his Toyota Camry, caving in the driver’s side where Power was left trapped. By the gruesome state of the wreckage, it’s hard to fathom how anyone could have survived the impact. But Power, 21, did. And he didn’t stop there.

Power suffered brain trauma that resulted in micro-bleeding, a broken pelvic bone and a gash on the left side of his forehead. When he was in the intensive care unit, “the initial thought was that I was going to have permanent brain damage,” Power says. He didn’t, and a month later came back to the universityagainst the advice of his doctorsto complete his senior year. He will graduate in May with honors from the Cockrell School of Engineering.

The road to commencement was one of perseverance on Power’s part and support from university staff and faculty.

Though Power escaped permanent brain damage, his long- and short-term memory was affected. He also had trouble identifying words to describe things, so he worked with a speech therapist last fall. The Houston resident credited Tricia Gore, assistant dean of student affairs in the Cockrell School, and Janet Ellzey, a mechanical engineering professor, for their emotional support and assistance guiding him through the university’s resources such as Services for Students with Disabilities, which secured more time for him to take exams due to his memory challenge.

“It’s good to know when something like this happens, you’re not abandoned,” he says. “You have people looking out for you. You couldn’t ask for more.”

When Power returned in the fall, he continued working part-time in the Engineering Academic Affairs Office doing clerical work, but he took a reduced course load. He kept insisting he could take morean idea, in retrospect, he admits was too ambitious.

“Everything was going so good for me (before the accident),” he recalls. “I just wanted to get back to where I left off.”

By the spring 2008 semester, life was practically back to normal. He took 16 hours of classes and no longer needed the help of the speech therapist or the additional time to take exams. A follow-up Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan of his brain in December showed the micro-bleeding had ceased.

“He’s just a walking miracle,” Gore says. “He’s just a very determined and intelligent individual.”

Power, who was president of the Texas ice hockey club before the accident, and those close to him agree his personality has changed. He participates more in class and he’s more outgoing and outspoken about drinking and driving.

“I think most people take the stance that you can have a few drinks or beers and it’s OK,” he says. “For me, it’s an absolute view: if you drink one drink, you’re not fit to drive. I let my friends know, and they respect my wishes.”

With this serendipitous second chance at life, Power ascribes to a belief in enjoying each day to its fullest. And that includes playing hockey again once doctors give him the green light.

“I know I’m lucky. I used to be too scared or too shy,” says Power, who will work for ExxonMobil in Houston. “There’s no time for that anymore.”