What have you learned from all this?
Scott Lowe, 37, ponders the question. His eyes shift to the right, examining the treeline outside his Dawsonville home. The afternoon is filled with the sounds of singing birds, chattering children playing with a dog nearby and the hum of Scott's ventilator pushing air into his lungs.
He blows into a straw (called a sip-and-puff), and his wheelchair pivots to the right. He keeps looking out toward the woods, perhaps still considering the question. Or, maybe he doesn't want to talk about it.
A teenage accident
Scott was 16 years old when it happened.
Shelley Lowe Buffington, his twin sister, was asleep in her room when she got the phone call. She remembers the details: the clothes she put on as she dressed for the hospital and her neighbor's voice delivering the news with a phone call.
"Our neighbor said, ‘I'm coming to get you. Scott's been in an accident,'" she said, recalling the day more than 20 years ago.
While driving his older model Mercedes, Scott had hydroplaned across water on the road and hit a culvert. The impact slammed him against the windshield, breaking his neck. He wasn't wearing a seat belt.
The outlook was bleak. He was a quadriplegic on a ventilator and would be for the rest of his life. Some doctors didn't think he'd live long. Others said if he survived, his quality of life would be minimal.
They underestimated Scott Lowe.
It's been 21 years since the wreck, and today he lives a rich life surrounded by family and friends. The strength of Scott's resolve has served as an inspiration for many in the Dawsonville community. Buffington said they've been "blessed" to live in a small town, where everybody rallies around them in times of need.
And, when it comes to a spinal injury like this, there are often times of need.
‘You got life by the tail'
The Lowes are reaching out beyond their small town, calling on the kindness of strangers to help them out with a big expense.
Their 1995 Ford E250 van, which the Lowes use to take Scott to doctor appointments and family engagements, is showing its age. It's malfunctioning mechanically, and is becoming a deterrent for getting him where he needs to be.
The family has created a crowdfunding page in hopes of raising money for a new van. They've also scheduled a series of fundraisers.
"The van, that's the killer,"' said Scott's father, Ed Lowe, as he approached in the family's backyard. "The hydraulics are leaking, and it's just coming apart in some ways."
Ed put a hand on his son's shoulder.
"You get up one morning and you got life by the tail," Ed said. "And everybody's happy and you got money and insurance. You think all is well. Then, all of a sudden you get a phone call, and your breath's knocked out and everything changes. And a year and a half later, you're broke."
Much like his daughter, Ed's recollections of that fateful night 21 years ago are stamped in his memory.
"I got to the hospital and parked, and when I get inside I hear this blood-curdling scream. I recognized that voice," Ed said, recalling he joined wife Patsy in the waiting room. "She was just about passed out. She was having a fit. I said, ‘Wait a minute. What's going on?'"
‘Seeing is believing'
In 1996, Lowe began lobbying at the Georgia State Capitol to pass a mandatory seat belt law. He also traveled - and still does today - from school to school, talking with students about the importance of wearing a seat belt.
"(Scott and I) go around and speak to kids in school about that," Ed Lowe said. "Kids, you know, with them seeing is believing."
Beyond the speaking engagements and doctor appointments, Scott goes on family outings. He keeps up with the extracurricular activities of his seven nieces and nephews, like little league and cheerleading practice. He goes to the lake. He goes to Six Flags and Stone Mountain.
He even goes hunting.
"A hunting gear company sent him a shotgun," Shelley said. "It slides up under his chair. It operates with the same mechanism he uses to drive the chair. He pulls the trigger with his mouth."
Added Shelley: "He's tried to keep as normal of a life as possible. He's not let the injury slow him down. He still has a very good quality of life, and I think that's why he's made it as far as he has."
That's why getting him a new van is important, she said.
A modified van for Scott will cost around $65,000. So far, the Lowes have raised about $5,000 on their crowdfunding page (www.youcaring.com/scott-lowe-390216).
They're hoping to raise even more during a Christmas bazaar at 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at Rock Creek Park in Dawsonville. A Polaris off-road vehicle will be given away at the event.
‘He's my inspiration'
Shelley said they are grateful for any and all assistance with the van's purchase.
"Driving the old van has gotten ... interesting," she said. "We were driving to North Carolina a few weeks back, and the whole way I was praying: ‘please don't break down.'"
Making matters worse, the locking mechanism in the floor that's supposed to keep Scott's wheelchair steady has been malfunctioning.
"I've hit the brakes before, and he's come sliding to the front of the van," she said. "It's crazy."
At this, Scott smiled. The twin siblings shared a laugh.
"He's been through a lot," she said. "He's taken what he's been dealt, and he's a champ. He's my inspiration."
Phil Goodson, a Dawsonville resident and owner of Goodson's Pharmacy, said Lowe has inspired a whole community.
"He had everything in the world, and it was all taken away," Goodson said. "It doesn't seem to bother him. He's always in good spirits, and that shows his character. We could all take a lesson from Scott."
Sitting in the backyard of his Dawsonville home with his father and twin sister, Scott's eyes suddenly shift away from the treeline.
"You asked before about lessons learned," he said, pausing as the ventilator filled his lungs with air. "Don't take anything for granted. Life can change in a second."