Niki Taylor is internationally known as a supermodel. But for the past 13 months, she's been concentrating on being a super mom as she recuperates from devastating injuries suffered in a near-fatal car accident.
The accident left Taylor, 26, fighting for her life — with just a 1 in 10 chance of survival. Now, 41 operations later, she is making progress.
"I'm just so thankful right now … that I have legs. And that I have arms, and that God gave me another day to wake up and see my kids," Taylor told ABCNEWS' Charles Gibson in her first TV interview since the accident. "I am so grateful for that right now."
There's some semblance of normalcy, even as she learns to cope with her physical limitations.
"I can't ride a horse anymore. I can't Rollerblade with my kids. I can't run after my kids," said Taylor, who eloped when she was 19 and became the mother of twin boys at 20. She and the boys' father later divorced.
For Taylor, success came so quickly. She landed on the cover of Seventeen when she was 14, and soon reached the upper echelon of big-money fashion. By 21, she was on six magazine covers at once, and her 1997 Allure cover was the magazine's best-selling issue ever.
On April 28, 2001, Taylor was a single mom dating a young stockbroker, Chad Renegar, whom she was visiting in Atlanta. The couple went out to dinner and a club. They headed home in the early hours of April 29, with Renegar at the wheel.
Asked whether Renegar was in good shape to drive, Taylor responded, "He was fine."
At 3:50 a.m., Renegar lost control of his 1993 Nissan Maxima, swerved off the road and struck a utility pole.
"I slid forward, hit my knees on the dashboard, and that's about it," recalled Taylor. "Everybody was OK, and I was like, you know, 'My stomach is really hurting me.'"
Taylor got out of the car, lay down in a fetal position and passed out. Renegar, who climbed out of the mangled car with only minor injuries, called 911.
Taylor's last memory of the incident is the sound of the ambulance at the scene. She was rushed to a nearby major trauma center and was wheeled into surgery.
"It didn't take long to find out that she had some real problems and was bleeding internally," said Dr. Jeffrey Nicholas, a critical care surgeon.
She had lost nearly 80 percent of her blood, and her body was cold, which doctors say is a bad sign.
One Day at a Time
Nicholas said he had no idea who he was trying to save. In the first 24 hours, he operated on the patient three times and replaced her blood volume 10 times.
Only the following night, said Nicholas, did he have "the slightest bit of comfort that we had the majority of this bleeding controlled." And even then, Taylor still barely clung to life.
Within a few days, doctors discovered more internal bleeding and that her liver had actually been cut in half by the accident, "as close one could be to being a fatal liver injury," according to Nicholas.
Most of Taylor's liver was taken out, because livers can regenerate.
One day at a time, Tyalor seemed to making it. For 16 days, her abdominal cavity actually remained partially opened so doctors could repeatedly go back in and do more surgery. She was unconscious for weeks but slowly began to come around.
When she woke up, Taylor thought she had been unconscious for four or five days — not a month and a half.
"It was like, why me, Lord, why?" she said. "It was a sign for me to slow down, you know, and you know stop planning things and just, you know take it day by day."
Throughout her hospitalization, Taylor's family maintained a constant bedside vigil. The only people close to her who were not there were her twin 6-year-old sons, Jake and Hunter.
She did not see them for two months, and she couldn't speak to them over the phone, so the boys sent her videotapes — which is what often kept her moving forward in recovery.
"They're amazing," she said of the twins. "I have the best two men in my life. They were incredible."
Taylor has permanent numbness on her arm and on one side of her leg, so she can't stay on her feet for very long.
"When I wake up every morning, I feel like I'm 80 years old, and it makes you not want to get up," she said. "But you know the thing is just to keep moving. … All I can do is wake up every morning and thank God for giving me that day and go on with my day."
This story originally ran on November 15, 2001.