Utah crash survivor beats odds, keeps promise to help people as she graduates from U. with doctorate

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A crash survivor overcame all odds and graduated with her doctorate at the University of Utah on Thursday, keeping a promise she made after the crash.

There was something extra special about graduation day for Annette Klingler, when everything seemed to come full circle.

"It took a long time," she said, standing outside the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the university's campus.

"And a long trial."

The trial began more than 15 years ago, when Klingler lost her infant baby. Just six weeks later — during the popular Sundance Film Festival — she was driving through Parleys Canyon with her daughter when another driver crossed the median and Klingler's life changed forever.

A medical helicopter happened to be nearby and flew her to the hospital. More than once her heart stopped. Her head injury sent her in and out of consciousness and left her with the mental capacity of a fifth grader.

But it wasn't until about a week later, in the hospital, that she learned about her daughter, 6-year-old Alexis.

"When my mom looked at me I knew she wasn't here anymore," she remembers.

Alexis was gone and Klingler slipped into a coma for four days. That's when she had what she describes as a sacred experience with her daughter.

"I knew that she was so OK. That as a mom if there was a moment I thought I needed to be there, I would have been. And that's when she said, 'Mom, you need to stay here and finish helping people and I'll see you in a little bit."

Klingler promised her daughter she would help people, "because she doesn't get the chance to do it." And so began her difficult journey of "just surviving the day" so she could keep her promise.

During her treatment in the hospital, doctors discovered Klingler had ovarian cancer. She would go on to beat cancer and then to work with professionals to relearn how to process and remember information.

In 2015, she went back to school to finish her degree in psychiatry as a nurse practitioner. And then she continued her studies pursuing her doctorate, "so that we can make the changes we need for the people who are struggling the most."

Klingler says she put in the work to make it happen, "but it took a lot of people along the way."

But it was more than that, "it was knowing that my Alexis was cheering me on on the other side."

Things really did come full circle when Klingler learned commencement ceremonies would be held on May 5, the same day 15 years ago when she held a memorial for Alexis.

"Baby girl, we did it. We did it."

Klingler always carries a picture of her little girl and Thursday was no different as she walked into the ceremony dressed in her gown. It's a reminder to her of how she got here and the journey of helping people that still lies ahead.

"It helps not only keep my promise but it helped me heal too," she said.

Klingler graduates with a 4.0 GPA. She's already helped many people along the way and she plans to continue that good work with a new partial hospitalization program she started at Primary Children's in Taylorsville. The program helped adolescents struggling with suicidality. She wants them to know there is help.

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Matt Rascon


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