As Regina Mathews shops for a graduation gown for her son Don, you'll find nothing but smiles on her face.
It's a far cry from the night she didn't know if he'd even make it to the next day.
"It's just a wonder he lived through it," said Regina about the night her son almost died.
Don grew up in Huntsville and attended Sam Houston State University. In the Fall of 1998 he was a few months away from transferring to Texas A&M University.
"A month into the semester is when it happened and that changed everything," said Regina.
At his 21st birthday party, Don was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He was walking away from the party with his date when he was assaulted so badly that people that didn't even know him," said Regina. "A group of men jumped him and kicked his head and jumped on it repeatedly," she said.
Regina traveled to Huntsville Memorial Hospital as fast as she could.
"When we walked into the emergency room, I walked over to him and I thought how could this bloody oozing mess be my child? It didn't even look like him he was so beaten," said Regina.
Don slipped into a coma but his mother stayed by his side.
"By the time he'd been on life support for two and half weeks, they came to me and asked me to sign papers to disconnect him," said Regina.
But Don didn't die, he fought on. After waking up from his coma doctors learned that he had severe brain damage and had to relearn skills most of us take for granted. After two years of therapy, all Don could think about was finishing his degree.
In 2000, he returned to Sam, five years later he got into A&M, and last week, Don graduated with a degree in Ag Leadership.
"It's has taught me perseverance. Taught me not to ever give up. It's taught me that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish a lot and that feels good considering where I've been," said Don with a slight speech impediment that still lingers from the assault.
'Here we are, we're here now. While life is filled with disabilities, we've made it," said Regina.
Of the three men that assaulted Don, two are in prison, one of them has since died but Don doesn't spend much time thinking about the night he can't even remember.
"It doesn't do you any good to be angry because all you're doing is hurting yourself. You're not affecting those guys in prison," said Don.
As Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Don is done with college and will concentrate on celebrating that incredible milestone.
"I set a goal and I met that goal," said Don.
"This is one of the best things to happen for him, he needed to have this happen. He had so much taken from him," said Regina.
Don plans on looking for a part time job in the Huntsville area and says he's ready for an opportunity that can present a challenge.
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