CBSN

Awake After 20 Year Coma

Jim and Betsy Scantlin
CBS/The Early Show
In a two-part series, The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith brings the story of Sarah Scantlin, a woman who woke up from her coma after 20 years. The following is her report.
In 1984, a hit-and-run accident left 18-year-old Sarah Scantlin in a semi-conscious state. She stayed that way until earlier this year, when -for no apparent reason- she began to speak. Sarah Scantlin is not speaking in full sentences yet, and it's still hard for her to move. But her family says it's the same Sarah who left them on a terrible night so very long ago.

It's almost as if Sarah Scantlin knew that her life would be interrupted because she made the most of every minute.

"She loved life from the very first breath," says her dad, Jim Scantlin.

And she came of age in the 1980s. Besides school, there was cheerleading, parties, friends, boys. As a college freshman, she led the dance team and reveled in the life of someone who knew no limits until one day in 1984.

It was Friday, Sept. 21, the first day of autumn, after a momentous summer that had seen the U.S. triumph in the Los Angeles games and Ronald Reagan nominated for a second term. That week, a new sitcom made its historic debut. But for Sarah Scantlin, there was no time for TV.

"She was too busy living life," Jim Scantlin says.

Weekend nights were for fun, and as that September Friday night gave way to Saturday morning, Sarah Scantlin walked out of a party at a local bar unaware that a new, cruel reality was hurtling straight toward her.

It happened just after midnight. Sarah Scantlin was crossing this street with a couple of her friends when a drunk driver careened out of the darkness and hit her. The force of the impact threw her up onto his car and into the path of oncoming traffic. And the driver just kept going.

"About midnight the phone rings and Betsy finally answered it," Jim Scantlin recalls, "She came back into the room and pulled my big toe and said: 'Get up. We've got to get to the hospital. Something terrible has happened to Sarah.'

"I'll tell you. When I was awakened that night, I woke into a horrible nightmare of a new world."