PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB)– On May 4, 2021, News 13’s morning show reporter, Tess Rowland’s life changed forever when she was hit head-on by a driver driving the wrong way on Panama City Beach Parkway. Police on scene said the driver was intoxicated. Now, Rowland has become a fierce advocate against drinking and driving.

“I was living my dream.”

A year ago Rowland was passionately pursuing her young career and soaking up a new life in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Panama City Beach.

“I called my mom the night before the crash, as she and I are like best friends, and I called her and I told her that I loved her and that honestly, I was the happiest that I had ever been in my life.”

In an instant, the life she knew was over. Her 2019 Honda HRV was struck by a lifted Chevy Avalanche that pulled in front of her going the wrong way on Panama City Beach Parkway. Investigators said the driver was under the influence.

“Panama City Beach Fire Rescue was amazed that I wasn’t decapitated because this person’s foot never went off the gas, and my car just took that impact,” she said.

Law enforcement veterans, like Panama City Beach Police Chief Talamantez, describe it as one of the worst accidents he had ever seen.

“The fact that Tess came out of that you know with serious injuries, but it not being a fatal wreck is a miracle,” he said. “There is no worst-case scenario than that, it was a very horrific traffic accident.”

Rowland had complex fractures to her knee and shoulder. Doctors considered amputating the lower portion of her right leg, but were able to save it. They also told her if she was over the age of 30, she would need a total shoulder replacement. Her injuries have required 4 plates, 22 screws and six surgeries so far. She also had serious internal injuries and still lives every day in pain.

“My life was taken from me. My ability to use my right arm, my ability to eat, my good health, my career was taken from me. I was impacted so much in just a split second,” she said.

Tess found that it would take months of hard work to do the little things that most of us take for granted.

“My biggest goal for my birthday which was in July, I told everyone that I was going to walk into a restaurant and have a regular meal which was something that was hard for me to do because of my internal injuries,” she said.

While she was in the hospital Dr. Ian Goodman, who worked tirelessly to save Tess’s life, said something to her that saved her spirit.

“He said you’re a journalist and you love to tell stories, and this is your story to share with people and make a difference, and he said and you will change lives when you tell your story,” she said.

And Rowland went to work telling her story in classrooms, hoping to make a difference with law enforcement officers by her side.

“She seems extremely passionate. I think it’s almost 24/7 on her mind what can I do next to save someone’s life, what can I do next to outreach to kids, and what can I do next to help invest in law enforcement and help give them the tools to be able to do their job,” said Lt. Jason King of the Florida Highway Patrol.

King said Rowland, who is not that far removed from her high school graduation day, can connect with young people in a way that law enforcement officers can’t.

“It’s genuine and it’s real and it has that raw emotion with it,” he said.

Rowland worked with Lt. King, Chief Talamantez, Panama City Police Chief Mark Smith and Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford to create a joint task force to stop impaired driving in the area.

“It’s amazing how many drunk drivers are taken off the road in one simple 12-hour-shift. It’s astounding. I believe in the last one in April there were 10 drivers that were taken off the road. That was 10 opportunities that someone could have lost their life due to some impaired driver bring on the road,” said Rowland.

For Rowland, it’s a fight that never ends. But she said she’s grateful to still be here and thankful that she can share her story.

“A lot of people who are victims of drunk driving are forgotten because their story doesn’t get told and I’m here to tell my story and I’m here to fight for them too,” she said.