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Rebuilding her life after accident
Taylor Bryant, 23, holds her senior portrait at her home on Friday. Bryant was in a car accident that nearly claimed her life after being distracted by her cellphone while driving in December 2011. Now Bryant travels to schools throughout Green County and tells her story. "I figured if I could change someone's mind, then I should do it," Bryant said. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers in Wisconsin. Taylor Bryant knows why all too well.

After being involved in a serious car crash while texting, the 23-year-old Bryant visits schools throughout Green County to share her story and teach students the dangers of texting while driving.

In May 2011, Bryant had just graduated from high school in Oregon. One day in December, Bryant, then 18 years old, drove to visit a friend in Albany.

Bryant doesn't remember what happened next.

What Bryant was told happened was that she had, while distracted by her cellphone, lost control of her vehicle, which rolled over three times, and was thrown clear of the wreckage through the vehicle's sunroof. The unconscious Bryant sustained a cerebral edema, a swelling of the brain that could kill her within hours.

No one was there to call the police. But against all odds, a Green County Sheriff's deputy came upon the scene of the crash and drove Bryant to University of Wisconsin-Madison's neurocritical intensive care unit. After seven hours of surgery, Bryant's condition stabilized.

Physical rehabilitation took months, Bryant said.

"I had to relearn almost everything," she said. "I started out only able to move my thumb."

Still more troublesome was mental rehabilitation. Although Bryant's edema was alleviated after surgeons removed a piece of her skull, her brain had sustained trauma to its right frontal lobe. This trauma manifested as persistent memory problems.

"They said it's most likely permanent," Bryant said.

However, Bryant said she felt lucky when, during her rehabilitation, she attended a clinic in Juneau for people with brain trauma. Compared to many sufferers of brain trauma, she said, her memory problems are fairly easy to deal with.

"I leave a lot of Post-Its, and keep a lot of calendars," Bryant said. "It takes me longer to learn things than I used to. Insurance can be difficult to deal with."

Although the crash forced Bryant to put her life on hold for years, she has gradually reassembled her plans for the future. She works multiple jobs and this fall she plans to study to become a nursing assistant at Blackhawk Technical College.

Since completing rehabilitation, Bryant has lived with her mother in Monroe to save money - and to help with insurance.

Despite the accident, Bryant said she wasn't nervous when she was cleared to drive again in 2013.

"My mom was really nervous," she said. "But I was glad to be able to do it again."