On April 2, 2017 around midnight, Diana Milan thought she was dead. As the seatbelt squeezed her internal organs and the airbag crashed into her face, she thought about her mother.
She then thought about all the hard work that brought her to this point in time, and she was mad. “We had six weeks before the end of the school, and I thought, 'All this work for nothing. I'm about to die.'”
Milan grew up in Medellín, Colombia, once known as the “most dangerous city on earth.” Home to the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar Gaviria, founder and leader of the Medellín Cartel, the city was a battleground in the 1980s and '90s, according to Alex Warnock-Smith in number 42 of The Guardian's“Story of cities” series.
“It's where they have all the wars and cartels and all the mafia guys,” Milan said of her hometown. “It was kind of scary, but that was all I knew.”
Milan emigrated from Colombia to the United States in 2008 and settled in Columbus, Mississippi, where she taught herself English by watching television. After just one semester of English as a second language, Milan enrolled in classes at the Mississippi University for Women.
Milan started college in 2009 and completed her bachelor's degree in just three years. She majored in biology and was considering dentistry when Dr. Wilhelmina O'Reilly, assistant dean for student affairs and professor of pediatric dentistry and community oral health, visited “The W” to talk with students about how to apply.
Through the STEP program, Milan was able to visit the campus to make up her mind. “I came here, and I loved it. I loved small group. I loved the school. I just loved the place.”
At age 30, older than many of the other students in her class, Milan began dental school. She would be 35 when she reached commencement - if she made it to commencement.
She doesn't remember much about the car accident. She still hasn't seen a police report to find out what happened. “I just remember the pain. When I finally realized I was alive, I was so grateful.”
She had fractured her L2 and L3 vertebrae. Experiencing internal bleeding, Milan was taken to the operating room for exploratory surgery the evening after she arrived at the Medical Center.
“I couldn't move for the first three days,” Milan said. “I remember being in bed crying, 'I need a computer! I need to do my presentation!' I was crying because I couldn't sit up to work.”