“I heard the screeching tires and the sound of the crash as we made impact with the pole,” she remembers. “In that moment, I was not Amber anymore. I was a completely different person.”
Amber Christos, a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Childhood Studies, sat on a bench under the sun in Independence Plaza, wearing sunglasses and a colorful spring shirt. She appeared to be an average soon-to-be college graduate; she is well-spoken, intelligent and animated. But it took years for Christos to learn how to read, write and perform simple math again.
She made little eye contact as she spoke about the night that changed her life, clearly reliving the scene in her mind. “It was a few months after our high school graduation [in 2011],” she began…
The car pierced through the rain en route to a church youth group function. Christos rode as passenger when she saw the red light out of the corner of her eye.
The driver, Christos’ friend for more than a decade, had been texting and driving. Instead of hitting the brake, she pressed the gas pedal and blazed through the intersection. The oncoming car struck the passenger side where Christos sat, forcing the girls’ red vehicle into a telephone pole. Life as Amber Christos knew it came to a halt.
“It felt like I was in a fantasy world. Time stood still and it felt like we were miles away in just the blink of an eye,” she said. “The pain still hasn’t come to an end, including the lies [my friend] told. I chose not to say anything about her texting because I wanted to protect my friend.”
After the accident, Christos suffered from memory loss, cognitive problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and post-concussion syndrome. She pressed through a year of physical therapy, chiropractic care, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Biofeedback therapy.
“It was like I was in kindergarten again. I was so embarrassed to talk to people because I couldn’t form sentences as I was speaking,” the now vibrant 23-year-old enunciated effortlessly. “I had to withdraw from my piano class at OCC [Ocean County College] because I couldn’t use my hands, but I never stopped going to school… My classes kept me motivated. ”
Over the years, Christos came to rely less and less on accommodations made in the classroom. She later transferred to Stockton after receiving an associate degree from Ocean County College.
At Stockton, her educational career continued to excel. Amber worked as a research experimenter under the direction of Dr. Justin Ostrofsky, visiting assistant professor of Psychology; was selected to be a teaching assistant for Dr. Michael Frank, professor of Psychology; and participated in a transfer seminar conference at Bergan County College with Dr. Thomas Grites, assistant provost.
Christos credits Stockton University and the faculty and staff support on campus for providing her with abundant opportunities, encouragement and motivation.
“Dr. Grites was in my life in two ways. He was my professor during my first semester at Stockton and I had the pleasure of having him as my adviser for the past two years,” Christos said. “He was helpful as my professor and he always looked out for me as my preceptor. He told me about different opportunities I had within my major and what I could do to improve my résumé.”
She emphasized the distinctive support given by Dr. Ostrofsky, whom she had for Statistical Methods of Psychology and Experimental Psychology.
“In particular, Dr. Ostrofsky is the type of person who doesn’t let his students fail. He was very sympathetic to my situation and always made sure I understood the classwork before I took tests. He took the time to go over problems with me until I could understand my mistakes. It meant a lot to me that he went above and beyond. So many people at Stockton go above and beyond,” she said.
She placed her hand over a gold necklace above her heart which read “Amber,” reinforcing her reclaimed identity. She said with deep sincerity:
“I have so many people to thank. My mom was always my shoulder to cry on. My stepfather, Brian, took me out driving again – to ‘get back on the horse’ so-to speak. My boyfriend, Ryan, has been a huge support the last two years I’ve been at Stockton… Dr. Grites, Dr. Ostrofsky, Bob Ross [assistant director of Counseling and Health Services], Gina Maguire [adjunct instructor of Gerontology], the list goes on and on.”
Outside of her studies, the graduating senior also spends time journaling, singing, dancing, taking photos, making collages and walking on the beach. “I think journaling is so therapeutic… and music is my passion. I sing all the time,” she said with a smile.
Christos, originally from Beachwood, N.J., is set to graduate with a B.A. in May. She plans to work as a residential counselor at the non-profit Easter Seals, which provides services, education, outreach and advocacy for individuals living with autism and other disabilities. She hopes to obtain her Master’s degree in School Counseling from Rowan University or Monmouth University.
“I think God actually saved me from dying that night. I think he’s played a role and has gotten me through a lot of things I had to deal with after the accident. I am so thankful He did and for the opportunity to get an education at Stockton,” she said.