Bianca Vera still feels lucky to be alive.
One year after the 23-year-old nursing student jumped from a Dawsonville Highway bridge to avoid a tractor-trailer sliding toward her across ice, Vera still suffers from back pain. But she feels lucky to have avoided more serious injuries.
The daring 40-foot jump into the chilling waters of Lake Lanier left Vera with a broken vertebra.
"Coming up on a year it's kind of emotional," she said, "just thinking about everything that I've been through as far as recovering from it and getting back into school."
About 5:50 a.m. Feb. 10, 2011, Vera was on her way to school at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega when an oncoming driver struck Vera's Nissan XTerra.
She pulled over to check the damage of her car, which was minimal.
But as she attempted to get back in her car she saw the headlights of a tractor-trailer coming straight toward her.
That's when Vera made a split-second decision to jump over the bridge's railing and into the nearly 100-feet deep waters below.
"It was like a blackout," she said. "I don't really remember until I hit the water."
As emergency crews attempted to locate and treat people involved in what became a 10-vehicle pileup, no one was aware Vera had jumped into the lake. The cold waters posed the threat of hypothermia, something she knew about as a nursing student.
"It was just a constant struggle ... trying to get myself to keep moving and not drown," Vera said.
As Vera climbed the lake's bank, she was spotted by a rescue worker.
Looking back on the terrifying ordeal, Vera said she believes jumping was her only decision.
"I don't think I would be here if I didn't do that," she said.
She has since been through a "difficult" recovery and had surgery on her back in early January.
A year later, Vera's previously broken vertebra is hardly noticeable to others. But she still suffers occasional back pain and can't sit in a chair without back support.
"I think that I'm really lucky to have survived so much," she said.
Surgeons expect Vera to fully recover without any long-term complications and without the need for physical therapy, she said.
After the accident Vera transferred to Brenau University in Gainesville where she is a junior in the school's nursing program.
The decision to transfer was partially motivated by the injury she suffered from the jump. She feared having to drive through similar icy conditions and therefore wanted to transfer closer to home in an attempt to avoid another accident.
"I didn't want to, if there were conditions like that again, to have to drive through them again," she said.
A mild winter has allowed Vera to avoid driving through icy conditions, but if those conditions occur she plans to stay off the road completely.
"That will never happen again. I will not get in my car," she said.
Vera said she doesn't fear crossing bridges, though.
However, in the rare event she crosses the Dawsonville Highway bridge she thinks back on the event a year ago.