RADFORD, Va. -- Radford University’s graduation ceremony Saturday was extraordinary for one Central Virginia woman.
Malina Richardson crossed the stage on crutches to pick up her diploma.
The 21-year-old was seriously injured in a crash on I-64 a month ago while traveling home for the weekend. Her sister actually lifted the car off her and pulled her to safety.
The first responders on the day of the crash picked her up from her Ashland home Saturday morning and transported her to Radford for the graduation.
Malina and her 20-year-old sister, Maya, were just a few miles from home when a tractor-trailer sideswiped their car on March 30. Malina and her younger, 20-year-old sister Maya, were traveling home for the weekend from Radford University. They are both studying health promotion and education and hope to go into the healthcare field.
The tractor-trailer truck moved into their lane, and Malina jerked the wheel to get out of its way.
"There was like an embankment -- a little hill -- I just remember hitting that and that's all I remember,” she said.
Dona Richardson was on the phone with them, driving down the road with her 15-year-old daughter Alycia, at the time of the accident. Alycia called 911 as Dona tried frantically to talk to the girls.
"We could hear the scream,” she said. “We could hear the gurgling -- and then the silence."
For Dona, the silence was the scariest.
"To hear your child scream, you're like, 'OK , I’ve got something,'” Dona said. “To hear them gurgling -- you know they're fighting to stay alive, but then to hear deafening silence -- it's a feeling no parent should have…”
The impact threw Maya into the back seat and Malina out the back window.
Maya said she ran around the car, screaming for help. She found Malina lying under the car, with hot oil dripping on her face.
"If it weren't for Maya, I probably wouldn't be able to see or be here right now,” Malina said, “because she pulled me from underneath the car and saved me and she wiped the oil off from around my eyes."
Malina was rushed to VCU Medical Center, with critical burns, multiple fractures and internal injuries. In addition to the second and third-degree burns, she suffered a punctured lung, a fractured left cheek, and three fractured ribs. There was also abdominal bleeding and other injuries.
Her family was told by one of the trauma doctors to be prepared for anything.
It took weeks of surgeries and excruciating treatments, but Malina surprised doctors with her progress.
"Miracles have happened -- you know -- God is so good,” Dona said.
Witnesses said the car was catapulted as high as the treeline after it crashed into the embankment.
The driver’s side door of the four-door Chevy Cavalier was crushed on impact. Because Maya unclicked the seatbelts, the sisters were thrown into the back. They believe Malina would have been crushed otherwise.
And somehow, Maya, who only broke a toe, was able to lift the car off her sister. She dabbed the hot oil of her face, and doctors said, prevented worse burns.
Malina was just released from the hospital, after a month of intense care.
Saturday morning, May 6, at 6:30 a.m., Eddie Ferguson and the rescue team that responded to the accident on March 30 will pick Malina up at her home and take her to Radford University, so she can get her diploma with her class.