FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The road to independence hasn't been easy for 33-year-old Sofia Carpenter.
"I have seen death a lot more than most people," she said.
At five years old, she survived a car crash that killed her mother and her unborn brother. Sofia was not wearing a seat belt at the time, and the wreck left her paralyzed.
But she says she emerged with a better life.
"It was like a blessing in disguise even to this day," said Sofia.
During treatment at Valley Children's Hospital, she met Janet Carpenter, a psychologist that would soon become her foster mother and eventually her adoptive mother.
Janet remembers what crossed her mind the moment the two met.
"She's a keeper," said her mother Janet.
Sofia has spent her life overcoming a paralyzing spinal cord injury, multiple surgeries, two strokes, among other medical complications.
While her struggles have been heavy, her hope remains high. At 18, she learned to drive.
Her family helped her buy a wheelchair-accessible van, giving her more independence than ever before.
"There are really no words for how impressed I am with her and how proud I am of her," said Janet. "I mean, she has overcome so much."
Sofia was able to take the wheel and get herself to church, classes at Fresno City College, volunteer work, internships and appointments.
"I have a lot on my plate, but I am so excited each day," said Sofia. "It makes me feel important to be there for myself and for others."
She began perusing a bachelor's degree in social work at Fresno Pacific University. Sofia is set to graduate this spring with plans to help foster kids bridge the gap into adulthood when they leave the system.
"Where are they going to go for a job? Where are they going to go to college? How are they going to support themselves?"
A few years ago, her van suddenly broke down.
A loan allowed her to get back behind the wheel, but Sofia's got a big bill to pay off: more than $45,000.
To this day, she continues to fundraise through the nonprofit Help Hope Live and says freedom was worth the price.
"It gives me a sense of pride," said Sofia.
Contributions to Sofia's fundraiser can be made here.
Fresno Pacific student raises money for wheelchair-accessible van
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