Family thankful for community's support after teen seriously injured in crash

Teammates, competitors use #VivStrong to show support as Vivian McGowan recovers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This Thanksgiving, a Jacksonville family is thankful for the incredible support they've received from the community after a popular Mandarin High School student was seriously injured in a horrible car crash just days after Hurricane Matthew.

Vivian McGowan was in the hospital for weeks after suffering a diffuse axonal injury, which is similar to shaken baby syndrome, in an accident just before midnight Oct. 9 at Aladdin and Marbon roads. 

The 16-year-old is now slowly recovering with her parents by her side at the Sheperd Center in Atlanta, which is a special center that treats patients with brain and spinal injuries.

The junior at Mandarin High School was at the height of her volleyball career and engaged in countless athletic clubs. But after the horrific crash, Vivian was unable to return to her room with walls the color of Tiffany blue and adorned with academic certificates, trophies, medals and college brochures. 

"She is a colorful person," said Carey Smith, a family friend. "When she hit the court, she was ready to play her game."

Vivian's life and her tight-knit family were changed forever because of the terrible accident. 

"The impact was so severe that it caused her to have a traumatic brain injury," Carey said. 

The tragedy has not only brought Vivian's family together, Carey said, it's brought an entire community together.

Carey said it's the overwhelming support from the community that has Vivian's family and loved ones beyond thankful this holiday. 

"When you say the word 'support 'and from people all over -- not only from her volleyball family -- but from her brother's baseball family, coworkers of both April and Todd, it was just like a heartbeat throughout the community," Smith said.

A heartbeat that Carey told News4Jax first began with a simple hashtag: #VivStrong.

"These are the shirts that the school has donned to be able to show their support as a fundraiser," she said.

Soon, #Vivstrong was everywhere, on the jerseys of her volleyball teammates and players on rivalry teams in the district, including Atlantic Coast High School, Fletcher High School, Christ Church Academy and Stanton High School.

The hashtag was also sported of the calves of the cross country team, the players on the Mandarin High football team at the homecoming game and even by her fellow members of the Mandarin High's Student Athletic Leadership Team, the Powers Volleyball Club and JJVA (Jacksonville Juniors Volleyball Association) Club. 

"Vivian, the first thing that comes to my is loyal, super competitive, strong," Carey said. "Her laugh is contagious. She could light up a room with her laugh and you know it's Vivian laughing."

Though they may not be able to hear Vivian's bubbly laugh or see her on the court, community members continue to stand behind the teenager and pray for her recovery until she returns home. 

Vivian has a long recovery ahead. At the point, Carey said, she's not responding to things like her name and they're just trying to get her body to respond to medication and treatment. 

A GoFundMe account has been set up for anyone wishing to help with Vivian's medical expenses.