Campus wide, Student Stories

“I forgive him”

By Hunter Gatling | December 15, 2022

A freshman’s miraculous journey to CSU, and her testimony of forgiveness after a near-fatal car accident.

Textbooks, dorm room supplies, and parent’s goodbyes are the norm as high school graduates begin new chapters. There are few things in life more exciting for a teenager than the early days of freshman year. The new experiences, freedom, and meeting new people are just a few of the things that make freshman year the most memorable for some. Many students all over the country worked feverishly in high school to make it to their dream school, and Charleston Southern University’s Jessica Kolp is no exception. But months earlier before her arrival on campus as a freshman, it was nearly all taken away from her in the blink of an eye. 

January 26, 2022, Jessica was driving in her hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, after spending time with some friends. A man driving under the influence with a stolen vehicle in a police chase, ran a redlight and collided with Jessica’s vehicle. The collision resulted in life-threatening injuries to Jessica, including a fractured skull and two broken legs, among other injuries. She was left in critical condition, causing doctors to warn her family to prepare for the worst.  

“One moment I’m with friends enjoying life, a couple of hours later I have one foot in the door, headed towards the light,” said Jessica. Her life now in the balance, the future for the high school student, athlete, daughter, and friend to many, was very unsure. The injuries required many surgeries and medical life support. Jessica’s head injuries were especially of great concern for doctors. According to a journal kept by her mother, Cheryl Kolp, Jessica’s brain injuries literally took precedence over treatment for her legs, leaving the question if she would ever walk again. 

However, though in the fight for her life, she was not alone. With the support of the Ben Lippen high school community, and her family, especially her mother, Jessica’s journey to recovery had a lot of people in her corner. And with faith leading the way, there was reason for hope.  

Cheryl Kolp logged Jessica’s entire journey from the early hours of being in the hospital after the accident, all the way to full recovery. In that journal, Cheryl logs the milestones, the challenges, and the strides that Jessica made. To give an example of the impact the injuries had on Jessica’s cognitive abilities, Cheryl wrote, “We worked on our alphabet and months today and got a little closer to accuracy.” That journal entry was written on February 10, less than a month after the accident. Cheryl also wrote about Jessica’s memory loss as a result from the brain trauma. When asked if the mental or the physical aspects of the recovery presented the biggest challenge, Jessica states, “It was definitely the physical. Doing things like learning how to walk again was really difficult.”  

Jessica Kolp in front of the Chapel

The mental aspect of Jessica’s journey to recovery was no picnic, either. With just months before she was expected to graduate high school and gear up for college, Jessica found herself with the possibility of needing to delay the start of college so that she could finish high school. Jessica and her mother had a white board in her hospital room, and this is where they would practice basic math, reading, and writing skills. On February 12, Cheryl wrote in her journal, “We did test some very basic math skills and she got them right. Not sure how she can remember basic algebra but still doesn’t know her alphabet.” Faced with a major physical and cognitive setback, Jessica credits much of her speedy recovery to her determination to resume life as it was before her accident. “I was just determined to have a normal life”, she said. Her mother was also determined to help Jessica resume life as normal. Jessica credits much of her recovery, and who she is as a person, to her mother. “My mom has always been my best friend. And during my recovery, she really stepped up. She is always pushing me to be the best woman I can be.” 

From the moments just after the collision to the road to recovery, Jessica was never without support from her family and her surrounding community. Over $50,000 was raised by way of to help with the costs of treatment. Her high school put on events such as a “Pink Out” during a home basketball game in her honor. While her physical and mental setbacks presented great challenges, Jessica maintained her Christian faith, even when that was one of the most difficult parts of her journey. One day, when her mother left the hospital after their usual day of regaining some basic cognitive abilities on the whiteboard, Jessica’s Christianity shined through the hardships and turmoil. She made her way over to the whiteboard, still barely able to put together basic sentences, and wrote the words, “I forgive him.” Despite almost having her life taken by the selfish acts of a drunk driver, Jessica still refused to let anger and resentment have a place in her heart. When talking about forgiving the driver who struck her vehicle the night of January 26, she said, “It was one of the hardest things I have ever done as a Christian. But I forgive someone who almost became a murderer.” 

From the moment when she was first able to move after being bedridden from her injuries, Jessica’s determination overcame all obstacles. Fast forward to September 2022, Jessica is happy and healthy as a new student at Charleston Southern University. Her miraculous recovery is a true testimony to the power of faith, family, community, hope, and most of all, forgiveness. 

Hunter Gatling is a graduate assistant working in the Office of Marketing & Communication.

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