By RACHEL PARKER DICKERSON

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Driver's education students in Coach Jim Brown's summer class at Conway High School-West on Thursday witnessed a living, breathing example of the results of someone's choice to drink and drive.

A group of students from various county schools and also home-schooled students assembled for class on Thursday heard the story of 2007 CHS graduate Angelia Chastain and her 32-year-old brother, Ryan Chastain.

Angelia said in 2001, her brother and his wife were traveling from their home in Tampa, Fla., to St. Augustine, Fla., when they were in a terrible accident. Ryan's wife was driving, and a drunk driver hit them head-on. Ryan was badly injured and was in a coma for 30 days, Angelia said.

"It didn't just affect him, it affected me and everyone who knows Ryan," she said.

She said her brother was a young person just getting started in life when everything came to a stop.

Ryan said he was in the hospital for a year. He had rehab to re-learn to talk and to do any kind of movement. The right side of his face had been smashed and required reconstructive surgery. He lost 10 percent of his vision in his right eye.

His right arm is permanently paralyzed. His right arm suffered nerve damage, causing his right hand to curl closed. He has little movement in his right leg. He wears a brace on his right foot to prevent his foot from curling up so that he can walk on it.

Ryan also underwent brain surgery. His short-term memory is damaged, although his long-term memory is intact. He was going to school for a computer science degree, but now he is unable to do that kind of work.

"I was a computer genius. I was going to school for a great degree," he said, "I can't remember how to start up a computer. I can't do anything on a computer."

However, Ryan noted, he feels fortunate to be alive.

"I should have died. It was a crazy mishap that brought me back to life."

The wreck took more from Ryan than his physical abilities and his short-term memory. Angelia said about a year and a half after the wreck, Ryan's wife left him.

"She couldn't deal with the stress of living with someone who is disabled," Angelia said. Now Ryan and Angelia are both living with their parents in Conway.

"It's hard to see someone with a disability when you've seen them before their disability," she said. "It's a big deal still to our family."

However, she noted, Ryan has adapted well to his disabilities and has a positive attitude.

"He cooks all the food at home. He can live by himself now. I've tried to (do tasks such as) take a shower one-handed to try to understand. It's hard. He has such a great attitude. He's not bitter at that guy. Ryan has adapted wonderfully."

Angelia said her brother cannot drive because his vision loss causes him to have poor depth perception. Because he cannot drive, he cannot work, although he would like to. He keeps busy around the house, doing most of the cleaning and cooking and some gardening, she said.

"He can take any plant and bring it back to life. He does all the vacuuming and the sweeping. Every night he calls me and asks me what I want for dinner. He's the best cook," Angelia said.

As she drove home her remarks to the students, Angelia expressed the profound sadness she would have suffered if Ryan had died in the wreck.

She said to the students, "I can't tell you not to drink. That's a decision you have to make. I can't tell you not to drive after you've been drinking. That's a decision you have to make. But that decision can make a big impact."

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)