RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Alketa Stephens traveled the world to help others.
Now she’s fighting to regain her own life after a hit-and-run crash in May 2019.
Her perseverance is one of the reasons she’s nominated as a Remarkable Woman.
At the beginning of 2020, CBS 17 asked viewers to nominate a woman making a difference in her community.
A total of 136 entries was narrowed it down to four.
Alketa Stephens is the first of the four finalists.
Several times a week, Stephens takes speech therapy in a small office at Duke Midtown Clinic.
She’s learning to remaster the language after a hit-and-run crash in 2019.
Her husband, Mark Stephens, helps her through the entire process.
“I am so thankful to everybody,” said Alketa Stephens.
The couple met in Alketa’s native county of Albania more than 24 years ago.
Mark Stephens was on a mission trip with his church and fell in love at first sight.
“She has gotten off the helicopter there in a remote village. I was there and she got out of the Land Rover. I saw her. For me it was like being stunned at first sight,” expressed Mark Stephens.
Mark and Alketa got married in Albania and started a family. The couple moved back to the United States to pursue their careers.
Alketa Stephen’s dream was to become a nurse.
Within a few years, she made it happen.
She learned English and received a nursing degree from Winston Salem State University.
Then in May 2019, she graduated from Duke University with a nurse practitioner’s degree.
But five days later, tragedy hit.
A car slammed into her SUV.
She and two other passengers were inside. But Alketa took the brunt of the impact.
Raleigh police said the driver left the scene.
Officers still have not caught the suspect.
“When she was in the hospital, I was potentially going to lose my wife because she was in a very bad coma. She had the worse coma you could possibly have,” said Mark Stephens.
Alketa Stephens was in that coma for nearly three months. Doctors said there was a slim chance she would survive.
“She had the worse brain injuries you could possibly have,” said Mark Stephens. “When all the nurses said they never seen anybody recover from an injury like this ever, nurses with year and years of experience – it doesn’t give you a lot of hope.”
But one day, she woke up.
Alketa Stephens said support from her loved ones helps her get through painstaking physical and speech therapy.
“I have some friends. I’ve know them for 22 years. [They’ve taught me] how to speak English, how to do a job here. I’ve learned from them,” cried Alketa Stephens.
But to her friend Anne Derouin, they are all just returning the sentiment.
Derouin and Alketa Stephens worked together at Duke during a medical trip to Honduras.
“She just was a role model. Everyone who had met her throughout our trip In Honduras just noticed that she had this soft, gentle, persistent, kindness and love that just emits through. It was emitting in every little thing that she did,” said Derouin.
Derouin said Alketa Stephens always out served others.
She recalled her collecting dozens of crates of toiletries for Honduran families in need and comforting people in their final moments in life.
“On that particular day, there was a patient actively dying of cancer. We were all huddled together, not wanting to interfere and not wanting to bother the staff, the Honduran health care providers. It was Keta who reached out, walked to bedside, held the woman’s hand, comforted the woman, and spoke to the husband who was also at the bedside,” recalled Derouin.
Alketa Stephens said she draws her strength from loss.
Her youngest son Aaron died Christmas Eve 2007 from lung and kidney complications.
He was only 7 months old.
“So I was a math teacher before I decided to become a nurse here in the U.S. The second time to become a nurse came because of our second son, Aaron. He lived for only 7 months old,” stated Alketa Stephens.
His short life inspires her to make a remarkable recovery and to help other patients do the same one day.
Over the next few weeks, the CBS 17 team will highlight all of the local finalists Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.
But only one of them will get a trip to New York to be on the Mel Robbins Show.
That lucky woman and the local winners from more than 100 Nexstar markets will be headed to the national competition in New York next month.
Nexstar received more than 10,000 nominations nationwide.