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Student surmounts accident injuries to graduate with honors

December 18, 2008

David Paul, a 33-year-old man who almost died in an automobile accident 10 years ago, surmounted incredible odds to graduate from ASU this fall. He lost both legs and his eyesight, but he persevered to earn a degree in economics Dec. 18 from ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

On Thanksgiving Day 1998, while returning to Phoenix from Las Vegas, Paul’s car collided with an 18-wheeler. He thinks he may have fallen asleep.

Paul suffered severe injury to the visual cortex area of his brain. He also sustained critical injuries to both legs that resulted in amputation. He was in a coma for months.

After a year of hospital stays and visits, he began the process of restarting his life, learning to read Braille and to use a computer program that converts text into audio. He uses key commands to take the place of a mouse.

He enrolled at ASU in the fall of 2000, with his parents taking turns driving him to campus and attending classes with him, helping take notes.

Nancy Roberts, one of Paul’s professors, says she recognized his intellect and indomitable spirit when he took her freshman economics class.

“He always sat on the front row in Murdock Hall, listened intently and tapped away on his laptop,” she says. “The day’s lecture was about cost curves, and I had drawn a set of cost curves that were displayed on an overhead screen and asked the class what they could tell me about the relationship between marginal and average costs. Silence. I asked again. More silence.

“Then David said, ‘I think you must be at the bottom of the average total cost curve.’ This was the correct response. Not only was I amazed, but the class was also astonished. David could not see the curves, but he knew and understood what I had drawn.”

Though David spent three-and-a-half years in the computer science program at the Fulton School of Engineering, Roberts stayed in touch, continuing to encourage him. She was delighted when he switched his major to economics.

“I am proud to share in his parents’ joy at his accomplishments,” she says. “He has such a positive and resolute ‘can-do’ attitude. I am grateful that I was privileged to be a small part of his triumph.”

Though Paul has artificial legs, he gets around campus in a wheelchair. His workload for the past eight years has been intense. His parents, David and Carol Paul of Phoenix, read his textbooks to him, or he listens to books on CD.

Paul says his parents deserve to receive a degree along with him.

“I can’t believe how fantastic my whole family is,” he says. “I didn’t see that before. You tend to take life for granted.

“I was just an average guy before, not really focused on things. I skied and mountain biked. I’d just started to attend Paradise Valley Community College when the accident happened.”

He is considering attend graduate school or law school. But first he wants to rest a while.

“I’m a better person now than I was before the accident,” he says. “I’m much more appreciative of what I have. Whatever I do, I hope I can contribute in some positive way to society to repay all the blessings I have received.”