‘I am not going to fail’: Army veteran shares life of struggles and resilience to inspire others to keep fighting

Elizabeth Carter learned that her rare genetic disorder has passed down to her son which she’s closely monitoring

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio Army veteran hopes her story of resilience inspires others to continue pushing through pain.

Elizabeth Carter, 34, is now a stay-at-home mother of three and a full-time student at the University of the Incarnate Word. Before her life of success, she had to endure some hardships most people couldn’t even imagine.

“I was adopted at age 2,” Carter said. “I come from a mom and dad who were not ready to be parents. There was an accident with my dad, and my mom took me to live with my grandmother while she took care of my dad in the hospital. She said, ‘Kids can’t be in the hospital, so can you take care of them?’ She said she would be back, but she never came back.”

Carters said due to the extent of her dad’s injuries, he decided not to take ownership of Carter, who was soon given up for adoption.

“I was young and didn’t know really what was going on,” she said. “I grew up with my new parent, and not once did I ask about my other siblings, my mom or my dad.”

Sadly, her adoptive dad passed away from cancer when she was only 5 years old.

“That left me with my mom, who was constantly trying to work and, of course, was going through a depression after losing her husband,” Carter said. “I grew closer with my new siblings who were older than me. My mom fell into a real bad depression the older I got.”

She said her brother and sister eventually graduated and moved out and had families of their own, leaving her home by herself.

Unfortunately, Carter said she suffered a lot of mental and physical abuse as she got older.

Ultimately, she was pulled out of school when she was in the seventh grade.

“I had to work around the house and do chores and try to stay compliant,” she said. “I had a room with a bed and books I was allowed to read, a dresser and a desk. I had no toys or posters or CD players or anything. That is how I lived from the 7th grade until I was 18 years old.”

Though those years turned out to get worse and worse for Carter, she did not give up on her dream to get an education.

“I heard about this program on PBS called GED to TV, and I thought, ‘If I can get my GED, I can get a job, and then I can move out,’” Carter said. “So I ordered all my books and would do a lot of jobs working for my neighbors. I got my first job in an ice cream shop. I used all of my money I earned to buy these books.”

Carter said there were struggles during that entire process, but eventually, it was time to take the test for her GED.

“I told myself, ‘I am not going to fail,’” she said. “I remember driving up to the site with my mom, and she told me that I would not pass it. She said, even if I did pass it, what did I want to do with my life. I told her I wanted to join the Army.”

Carter said she was strongly doubted.

“(My mom) said, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything,’” Carter said. “She said, ‘You’re dumb. Nobody is ever going to want you.’”

Carter said she went into the testing site and sat next to a woman who had taken the test six times previously. She said she was thankful that she passed it on the first time.

“A month or so later, I called a recruiter and said that I wanted to join the military,” Carter said. “The military runs through my family. What I didn’t tell him is that I wanted to escape my home. I wanted out.”

In 2005, Carter joined the Army, where she met her husband and later had three kids together.

After three and a half years, she decided to retire to become a stay-at-home mom and wanted to pursue a career in nursing.

“I wanted to be a mother that I never had,” Carter said. “I wanted to show that love and compassion that I needed growing up. I also love a challenge, so I applied for my associate’s degree at St. Phillips College for pre-nursing. I wanted to be a nurse. It was a real struggle, but I also wanted to be an honor student. I worked so hard, and I was so afraid of failure.”

Two years later, Carter overcame her fight with anxiety and graduated with honors with a pre-nursing associate’s degree in science.

However, Carter said knew that wasn’t her calling.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that,’” she said. “I want to be able to talk to kids and to look at them and have conversations, and when they tell me they are OK, I want to know they are OK.”

Carter said she went back and forth with herself about going back to school but then settled on UIW’s psychology program.

However, another obstacle brought her life to an abrupt halt.

“I woke up one normal day in March 2020 and had headaches going on,” Carter said. “I had already been diagnosed with headaches in the past. While we were stationed in Germany, I was told I had formations on my brain, and they were not sure what they were but that they were causing the headaches.”

Carter said she could not sleep any that night and made one phone call to her husband that sent them to the emergency room.

“(My husband) said, ‘Your voice is off,’” she said. “He came home, and I walked down the stairs and out the door and got to the ER, and they were like, ‘Your face is dropping a little bit. Are you having a stroke?’ And I was like, ‘A what?’”

After taking so many tests, Carter’s stroke-like symptoms started to kick in, causing her to lose all the feeling on the left side of her body.

“I had an MRI done, and they found that I had a brain bleed,” she said. “It blocked off my learning development. It blocked off my speech. It blocked off my vision.”

Carter’s brain formations were blood clots, and the doctor learned she had hundreds of them. She would later find out she suffers from a genetic disorder called KRIT1, which caused the clots, and 22 Syndrome, which causes speech and learning delays.

The doctor was afraid that Carter might die both if she went through surgery to stop the brain bleed or did nothing about it.

“‘If we go in and we do surgery, you could die,’” she said the doctor told her. “‘If we sit here and do nothing, you could die.’ I took a day to think about it, and I ultimately said no.”

“The doctor said it was a good choice and sat beside me, and he cried because he was so scared,” Carter continued. He was like, ‘I am afraid to leave you and walk off.’ I said, ‘Well, I got enough people praying for me and whatever is supposed to happen will.’”

Once again, Carter fought through yet another obstacle where she re-learned how to walk, talk and live a normal life again. She even took classes at UIW to become a mental health counselor.

She said she is grateful for the struggles she’s been through in her life but hopes those struggles and her story inspire others to keep fighting through the hardships.

“I wouldn’t be who I am now,” Carter said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have had the determination to get through my stroke. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as strong. I would have given up. I may never have gone back to school, and I might not have been who I am now.”

Carter is now set to graduate with honors from UIW in December.

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About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.