TUCSON, Ariz. - During the holiday season you often hear about an increase in DUI enforcement . And when it's time to put up the Christmas tree, you may take a moment to count your blessings.
Valerie Savedra is certainly a woman who has learned to do that all year.
A faded newspaper article from the summer of 1977 briefly tells the story Valerie has lived with her whole life.
"We were going to New Mexico when a drunk driver hit us head on," Valerie said. "He was intoxicated coming from a bar and he crossed over the road and he hit us."
Valerie's 9-year-old cousin Tina died instantly next to her in the car. Valerie broke both her arms and legs. She was just a child when she left the hospital in a body cast and as an adult is on disability.
"I had to have numerous leg surgeries and reconstruction surgeries on my knee," Valerie said. "It was shattered and now I'm facing amputation. They want to take my leg because I have degenerative joint bone and tissue disease. So there is really nothing there."
Physically the crash took a toll on Valerie. But it was the mental scars that were often the toughest to bear. For decades Valerie never talked about the accident, even with her four sons. She says she dealt with survivors guilt and never got to properly grieve.
"I was hurt inside. I was broken and I didn't know how to fix that, but I had to go back to fix it," Valerie said.
It wasn't until Valerie was in her thirties that she realized the crash was something she needed to talk about. Now she has shared her story with multiple news outlets and was part of a PSA with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office.
KGUN 9 was introduced to Valerie through Mothers Against Drunk Driving . As a MADD volunteer, she answers a crisis line because she knows how important it is to talk and have someone listen. That often includes grief-stricken parents.
Valerie says recently a mother called the 24-hour line to talk about her son who had recently died.
"We talked about my kids, we talked about her son, we talked about life," Valerie said. "We talked about everything and what I like most is the phone calls start sad, and then it ends happy."
These days Valerie's family makes her happy. She calls her grown-up sons her biggest source of strength.
"On my worst days they're what gives me my hope, you know?" Valerie said. "They are what makes me want to get up in the morning."
Valerie will always hold her cousin Tina close to her heart. She often wears a pin with Tina's picture on it. Tina loved flowers, the color pink and riding bicycles. She may be gone but she's not forgotten, Valerie said.
"I am still remembering her and there is a fight here. It's easy. Like I said -- don't drink and drive," Valerie said. "It's 100 percent preventable. That's what makes it even harder to accept because you do have a choice. Don't do it."
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the MADD victim assistance line at (877) MADD-HELP.