LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) -- Thirteen years ago, doctors didn’t think Nathaniel Cheek would still be alive. Four years ago, he didn’t know how to read.
But Thursday, he walked across the stage to be inducted into the National Technical Honor Society.
"Nathaniel Cheek. Rock Hill High School. Forensic Science,” were words no one thought possible 13 years ago after Cheek and his family were involved in a car crash on March 10, 2005 in Hillsboro, Ohio.
Nathaniel was just a boy.
"He's amazing. He fought," said his mother Marsha Sly who was in the car, as well.
Sly shared with us a picture of his brain which she said shows the whole right side is dead.
In the hospital, she remembers telling him, "Nathaniel, let me know you're in there."
That’s when he raised his arm for her twice, in the sign language his sister had been teaching him.
Doctors couldn't believe it.
"I said 'do it again,' ” Sly said. “He brought it up a little stronger. (The doctor) says 'He's in there. He's in there.' "
It's been a long hard road.
The traumatic brain injury or TBI made him like an infant, unable to even sit up.
Fast forward to a few years ago as he was entering the 9th grade when he couldn't read or do basic math. But he said that's when he determined anyone who told him no was just going to have to learn otherwise.
"I think it's amazing I've proven doctors wrong," Nathaniel said. "It's been a struggle, but I've worked through all the challenges. There's been teachers that have told me I couldn't, but I proven them I will."
And he’s proven some relatives, too, when they’ve challenged him too.
Another source of inspiration is his older sister Megan who died in that crash. She was inducted into the Honor Society after her death.
"I'm doing it in her memory, too," Nathaniel said.
"He’s an inspiration to me and a lot of others I hope,” his mother said.
Nathaniel has better than a 3.0 grade point average and was selected by his teacher as the representative of the Forensic Science program this year at Collins Career Technical Center.
"My baby and he's graduating, with honors yay," said Sly with tears in her eye.
Nathaniel said he wants his story to give everyone hope, including other TBI survivors.
“There is hope for other people just like me out there."
Nathaniel still deals with some symptoms of his traumatic brain injury. He must be careful with loud noises and lights, which can cause spasms similar to an epileptic seizure. He is accompanied by an aide just in case a spasm hits.
Still, he's graduating from Rock Hill this spring and is a volunteer firefighter. He plans to student psychology at OU Southern in the fall and study psychology so he can be a counselor and help others.