Niki Taylor: Faith and Recovery from a Car Accident

After surviving a serious car accident, supermodel Niki Taylor had to stay in the ICU for months—but she always kept her family in her prayers.

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- Posted on May 1, 2006

I don't remember the impact. That part of the car accident is a blank. I was in Atlanta that weekend in late April, up from Fort Lauderdale visiting friends. Next thing I knew I was crawling from the car. A single thought was in my head: Am I okay? Then, right on top of that came the thought any mother would have: I need to be okay for my kids.

My six-year-old twins, Hunter and Jake, were down in Florida with their dad, my ex-husband. I'd promised my boys I'd only be gone for three days. I had to be all right. Even a short hospital stay would break that promise. I took a look down at myself. Not a scratch. By now my two friends were out of the vehicle too. They looked a little banged up but seemed okay as well. Thank you, God...

Suddenly, my abdomen started hurting—a pain more intense than anything I'd ever felt, like my insides were on fire. I lay down on the grass, tears streaming from my eyes.

That's the last thing I remember. I came to in Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital. How long had it been? A day? More? What about Jake and Hunter? What about my promise? I tried to speak but there was something in my throat. A tube. I was breathing through a tube.

In bits and pieces through the haze of my returning consciousness, the doctors explained what had happened. "Your liver was virtually torn in half," one of the surgeons explained.

"How long have I been here?" I scribbled on a pad by my bedside.

"About a month," the doctor said.

A month? No! May was almost gone. What about my boys? I'd missed Mother's Day. Somehow, that stung more than everything else I was hearing. I scribbled another note on the paper. "When can I see Hunter and Jake?"

"I'm sorry, Niki. The slightest infection would be disastrous. We just can't allow anyone under 10 years old into the ICU. No exceptions."

"How long?" I wrote quickly.

"A while. Two, or maybe three, months."

Some professional women see work and family as separate. I never have. My life is my family and always has been. I grew up in Cooper City, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. In my teens, I knew two things: I wanted to be a marine biologist (my dad, a highway patrolman, and I got our scuba certifications together the summer I was 14) and I wanted to be a mother.

One day Mom—an amateur photographer—sent some vacation shots of me to a local modeling agency. The agency asked me to come in. The same year I got my scuba certification, I came to New York to shoot my first cover, for Seventeen magazine.

More work followed. At 17 I was Vogue's youngest cover girl ever. I still loved the ocean, but marine biology wasn't to be. Being a mom was. I married at 18. A year later I gave birth to Hunter and Jake. A lot of folks thought I was crazy to have kids during my most lucrative modeling years. Couldn't I wait?

No. From the start, modeling had been a family affair for me. Either Mom or Dad or both of them always came with me on shoots. If a cameraman needed a hand moving some cable or a stylist needed someone to run out for two dozen gerbera daisies, my parents were ready to pitch in. My sisters, Joelle and Krissy, came along too, whenever they could. Now I had my boys to add to the mix.

I felt very, very blessed and very grateful. But there were clouds on the horizon, times ahead when I would need my faith more than ever. In 1995 my little sister, Krissy, died suddenly of right ventricular dysplasia, a rare heart condition. She was only 17. It devastated my parents and left a huge hole in our lives. In 1996 I went through a painful divorce. I'd always felt that everything in life happens for a reason, a reason that sometimes only God understands. Holding on to that belief became harder than I'd ever dreamed it could be.

And now here I was, flat on my back because of multiple surgeries, completely immobile, staring at the blank ceiling. Not see my kids for months? Hunter and Jake needed their mom. And I needed them. I needed all our little daily rituals: putting them into their PJs, picking up their toys, smelling their hair after a bath. At age six, life moves at a hundred miles an hour. They were making new discoveries, growing in new ways every day. How much of their lives had I missed already, just in the last month;

I got angry at the only one I knew could hear me. Staring up at that empty ceiling, I thought, God, I know how fortunate I've been in my life, but I've had my heartbreaks too and I don't want anymore. All I want is to see my kids!

Suddenly my mind flashed back to the accident. I need to be okay for my kids. That was it. That was the point. I would do whatever it took to get better, to survive this.

The next morning Mom walked in with a bunch of new photos of Hunter and Jake and thumbtacked the pictures to the ceiling. My heart swelled with an aching joy. Yes, Lord, I need to be okay for my kids. Thank you for the reminder.

After a little more than a month, I was well enough to sit up. My world grew to include not just the ceiling plastered with pictures of Hunter and Jake, but the walls of my room. I could look straight at the doctors and my family, even if I still couldn't talk. And, for the first time, I could see the TV that hung over my bed.

Mom took advantage of that. She brought in a package. There was a video in it. She popped it in and suddenly my boys were there in front of me, moving and talking, horsing around for the camera, showing off their new toys. Telling me how much they missed me. How much they loved me.

It was the middle of July—two and a half months since the crash—when I finally got the word I'd been waiting for. "The risk of infection is down enough for us to move you across the street to the rehab hospital," one of my doctors said to me. "Better yet, your boys can see you."

I made the trip over later that day. First thing the next morning, the door opened and Hunter and Jake ran in. They were dressed in mini-surgical scrubs. Each one even had a little stethoscope. They hopped up onto the bed and put their arms around me. I had a tube in my trachea, so I still couldn't talk—could barely move, in fact. For the rest of the day, they hung out with me in the bed and we watched TV together, just like we would have on a normal, lazy Saturday at home. I had my boys back at last. And I knew, somewhere inside, that things were going to be okay.

The road back was long and tough and painful. After dozens of operations to repair the damage of the accident, I had too many scars to be a full-body model anymore. But my face hadn't been touched. I would still be able to earn a good living in that profession, if I wanted. But did I? So far I'd managed to navigate both the triumphs and the tragedies that came along because of the anchor provided by my family and my faith. If things really did happen for a reason, it was up to me to find the reason for my accident—to discover how I could turn what had happened to me into something genuinely positive. 

I left the modeling world and started a brand-new chapter of my life in a brand-new place. I picked Nashville. I fell in love with it on a visit. I figured it was the perfect environment for my boys to grow up. Underneath it all I'm still a tomboy. Here I have plenty of opportunity to let that out. I have a motorcycle, the boys have dirt bikes, and on any weekend you're likely to find us on them. And, of course, there's our church, Calvary Chapel Brentwood, where we feel at home every Sunday, a place where we can center our lives.

Last year my manager, Lou Taylor, and I opened a clothing store here called Abbie & Jesse's (Abbie is Lou's dog and Jesse is mine), and I founded an organization that gives women with exciting business ideas but limited resources a chance to develop them. I called it the begin Foundation. (That's right, with a small "b" because the best things start out small.) Hunter and Jake are growing like crazy and I'm loving every minute of it. All I ever wanted was to see them again, to never miss another Mother's Day. This year, like all the years since I left the hospital, it will be the happiest day of my life.

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