Awake After 20 Years, Sarah Speaks

In a two-part series that starts today, The Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith tells the story of Sarah Scantlin, a woman who woke up from her coma-like state after 20 years.

After two decades of floating somewhere between life and death, Sarah Scantlin is fully, and finally, awake.

Since February when she awoke from a coma-like state that had kept her silent and unmoving for 20 years, she has undergone surgery on her long-unused limbs and has had intensive speech therapy to unlock her long-dormant tongue.

Her conversations now reveal that she was aware of many of the things going on around her while she seemed to be in a coma.

Shortly after she awoke, her father asked what she knew about events that had occurred years earlier. "Sarah, what's 9/11?" he asks. She responds, "Bad…fire…airplanes…building…hurt people."

Sarah is not speaking in full sentences yet, and it's still hard for her to move. But her family says it's the same Sarah who left them on a terrible night in 1984 when a hit-and-run accident put her, then 18, in a semi-conscious state.

It's almost as if Sarah knew that her life would be interrupted because she made the most of every minute, her family says.

"She loved life from the very first breath," says her dad, Jim Scantlin.

She came of age in the 1980s and was a cheerleader in high school and leader of a dance team in college.

Friday, Sept. 21, was the first day of autumn, after summer that had seen the U.S. triumph in the Los Angeles games and Ronald Reagan nominated for a second term. And as that night gave way to Saturday morning, Sarah Scantlin walked out of a party at a local bar unaware that a new, cruel reality was hurtling toward her.

It happened just after midnight. Sarah was crossing a street with a couple of her friends when a drunk driver careened out of the darkness and hit her. The force of the impact threw her up onto his car and into the path of oncoming traffic. The driver just kept going.

"About midnight the phone rings and Betsy finally answered it," Jim Scantlin recalls. "She came back into the room and pulled my big toe and said: 'Get up. We've got to get to the hospital. Something terrible has happened to Sarah.'

"I'll tell you. When I was awakened that night, I woke into a horrible nightmare of a new world."