Jennifer Duncan has been called a hero for putting her life on the line to save her baby boy, but most days she doesn’t feel like one.
She instead feels the aches of broken bones mending, metal parts holding her hips together, and the fatigue of keeping up with a toddler who learned how to walk while she learned how to use a wheelchair.
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Last May, Duncan was taking her then 8-month-old son to daycare when a car spun out near her, causing a chain reaction that resulted in a fender bender along an interstate bridge in Waco, Texas. She and other drivers involved pulled aside and waited for authorities to arrive. She was standing on the shoulder of the highway, holding her son, when another accident on the slick road sent a truck flying toward her — and knocked her off the bridge while still holding her baby.
The two tumbled 30 feet onto the asphalt below.
“The first things I did was bring my knees up around his body and my hands around his head. I just cradled him and held him tightly,” Duncan, 24, recalled to TODAY.
Duncan’s lower left leg was severed from the crash. Her right leg and her pelvis were completely shattered. She broke nine bones in her back, fractured numerous ribs and damaged several internal organs. A third person also was thrown from the bridge and hospitalized for equally extensive injuries.
But Duncan's son, Daniel, who goes by his middle name, Xzavian, survived the fall with only a scratch on his forehead.
“It seemed like only two seconds to land and the next thing I knew, I was laying there and my son was laying beside me,” she said. “I tried to get closer to him, and I couldn’t move at all.”
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Duncan spent more than two months in the hospital and another month in a rehabilitation center. She has had at least 14 surgeries and currently goes three times a week to physical therapy.
Today, she mainly uses a wheelchair to get around but also is learning to regain her mobility with a walker. She’s limited daily by severe pain and constant migraines but said keeping up with her son inspires her to make progress every day.
“I want to be able to walk with my son. That’s my major goal. I definitely need to catch up with him,” Duncan said. “He is my No. 1 motivation. I see how he looks at me and how he wants me to play with him.”
Before her accident, Duncan often pulled double shifts as a Sonic carhop and attended cosmetology school full time. She also just moved into a new home with her son. The pair have since returned to living with Duncan's parents, who also help care for Xzavian.
Duncan said she hopes to live independently again but her injuries and mounting medical bills make that difficult. A Gofundme account has been set up to help cover expenses, as well as the $40,000 she needs to get a prosthetic leg.
“It would definitely would be nice to get back on my own,” Duncan said. “I’m really trying and I hope people see me not giving up and that it gives others inspiration."
A spokesman for the Waco police department said the case involving Duncan's accidents has since been closed after investigators determined "no criminal offense," including excessive speeding or negligence, was involved.
Duncan said that in addition to being able to walk with her son, she hopes to return to cosmetology school so she can finally make a living from "what I've dreamed about doing since I was a little girl."