From traumatic brain injury patient to nursing school graduate

Ashton Ayers was not expected to survive after an accident left her with a traumatic brain injury during her freshman year of high school. A decade later, Ayers defied the odds and graduated from the UAB School of Nursing.

Videography and photography: Taylor Hulsey and Frank Couch

Written by: Pareasa Rahimi and Hannah Echols
Media contact: Hannah Echols

1204506363198103.K6VCZu8tJZS6faQcCast height640A decade after a traumatic brain injury, Ashton Ayers graduated from the UAB School of Nursing.
Photography: Frank Couch
As Ashton Ayers entered her freshman year at Oak Mountain High School in fall of 2012, she was excited for the journey that lay ahead. Less than a month later, Ayers found herself in a hospital room fighting for her life after she fell out of a golf cart, hitting the pavement headfirst, causing her skull to shatter and break at the base, and leaving her unconscious.

Ayers was diagnosed with a large subdural hematoma, a dangerous brain bleed that required an emergency decompressive craniotomy. There was a good chance she would not survive the surgery. And if she did, her brain function might be dramatically reduced.

But Ayers beat the odds.

She survived the surgery with her brain function intact. Her path to recovery consisted of physical, occupational and speech therapies. Now, a decade later, Ayers graduated with her degree in nursing from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I was just beginning to figure out my life. Starting high school is already a big step for anyone at that age, and then to add on an event like this was a shock,” Ayers said. “My recovery was unpredictable, so my family had to prepare for all possible outcomes. I had to relearn how to walk, talk, read, write, feed myself, even breathe on my own again.”

Once home, Ayers worked toward her goal of graduating from high school. With many medical professionals in her family, Ayers had considered nursing as a potential career path from an early age; but her life-changing experience solidified her decision.

“I wanted to pursue nursing because of the way my nurses treated me and the impact they had on not only me, but my family and friends as well. It really is the caring aspect that drew me to nursing,” Ayers said.

After graduating from high school, Ayers went on to earn her associate degree from Jefferson State Community College and was accepted into the UAB School of Nursing’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2021. To Ayers, UAB felt like home.

“UAB to me is Birmingham. I grew up here,” she said. “It’s a tough nursing program, but it’s an absolute honor to be a UAB School of Nursing graduate.”

1204506363198105.25kUuaWa4keNaBvF0hes height640Now a graduate, Ayers will begin her new role at the UAB Women and Infants Center on the Mother-Baby Unit.
Photography: Frank Couch
Now a graduate, Ayers’ journey comes full circle as she starts her new role at the UAB Women and Infants Center on the Mother-Baby Unit working alongside the team that saved her life before she was even born.

Ayers’ mother, Jerri Ayers, lost two babies at 19 weeks and 22 weeks after going into early labor. She was referred to UAB’s maternal-fetal medicine specialists during her third pregnancy, with Ashton. When she went into preterm labor once again, this time at 20 weeks, Richard Davis, M.D., professor of maternal-fetal medicine, performed an emergency cerclage to prevent her from losing another baby. The cerclage held; Ashton Ayers was born at 32 weeks and spent only 10 days in the UAB Regional Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

Little did they know that, 14 years later, Davis’ son, Drew Davis, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at UAB and Children’s of Alabama, would also play a role in saving Ashton Ayers’ life as her rehabilitation physician after her accident.

“Dr. Davis and the UAB team have now saved Ashton twice, which I am forever grateful for,” Jerri Ayers said. “Ashton has been a fighter since before she was born. From her TBI to juggling nursing school while her father had a heart transplant at UAB, she managed to excel. It makes me smile seeing all that she has accomplished and getting to start her career at a place that means so much to our family.”

Ashton Ayers credits her success in part to UAB’s Disability Support Services and the flexibility of the SON faculty. DSS worked with the undergraduate and prelicensure faculty to customize a plan based on her needs that provided accommodations during testing. She encourages other students to learn about DSS and use their services.

“I’ve been able to succeed in ways I didn’t know I could,” Ashton Ayers said. “Even though it took me a little bit longer to take a test, I didn’t have to feel as though I’m behind because of the opportunities and accommodations DSS provides for students.”

During her time at UAB, Ashton Ayers played an active role as a student leader. She served as a board member of the Student Nurses’ Association and was a member of the Senior Recognition Planning Committee. She also made community involvement a priority. In addition to being a mentor and advocate to other traumatic brain injury patients, every year, on the anniversary of her accident, she visits the unit she was on at Children’s, as well as the two fire departments that responded that day. Additionally, Ashton Ayers was awarded the Student Excellence Award after being nominated by UABSON faculty and staff.

“This story has become my motivation, and it’s a part of me,” Ashton Ayers said. “I believe that God gave me this testimony so I can use it to care for other people who are or were in the same situation I was in.”