Musician brings inspirational message to Medora High School



We all make choices every day, and it’s so much better to make choices that will lead you toward the positive.

That’s the message David Francisco, a 2018 “American Idol” competitor, recently shared with students and staff at Medora High School. He is a singer, songwriter and spinal cord injury survivor originally from Knoxville, Tennessee.

His presentation was part of a speaker series called Choices Matter, which tours high schools across the United States teaching students about the effects of distracted driving.

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“You can’t control what happens. You can only control what you do about it,” Francisco said. “It’s about choices and overcoming life’s challenges.”

Francisco moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016 with an intention to pursue music and attend Blackbird Academy professional audio school. Just three weeks after his move, he was T-boned while riding his bicycle when a distracted driver ran a red light.

Francisco had been biking back and forth to Blackbird each day without a helmet. Just a few days before the crash, he made the choice to buy one and was wearing it that day, and the helmet saved his life.

He still sustained multiple serious injuries. His left forearm was torn open and his back snapped, severely damaging his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed.

“It turned out the distracted driver was a drug user and had multiple addictions,” Francisco said. “She was off of her bipolar medications that day, hearing voices in her head, and just didn’t see the light, I was told.”

Francisco said he immediately forgave her and knew she probably didn’t deserve it and should have gone to jail for what happened. The default response for him would have been anger and trying to hurt her back for what she did.

“You can choose how you respond, and I chose to forgive the driver and give her a second chance at life, not only for her sake but for mine because if you’re holding bitterness toward someone, it hurts you just as much as it hurts them,” he said.

Francisco said he wouldn’t be as far as he has come today with anger and bitterness toward her in his heart, and he believes forgiveness brings life.

“Forgiveness brought positivity to the situation because the driver woke up in the hospital from an overdose,” he said. “She found out I had forgiven her, and then she made the choice to go to rehab to turn her life around.”

The following year consisted of intense full-time physical therapy and rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where Francisco focused all of his efforts on regaining any possible mobility.

“After eight months of therapy and working my legs two to three hours a day, I went from no movement at all to being able to walk with crutches,” he said. “Three years later, I’m able to walk without crutches but still working out and getting stronger.”

In 2017, Francisco graduated from Blackbird Academy, just before he auditioned for “American Idol” and went all the way to Hollywood week. His audition was televised and has been viewed close to 60 million times around the world.

He married Kristi Wilhelm, who started dating him while he was still in a wheelchair. Their love grew and drove his incredible recovery.

“Kristi and I organized a charity bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to celebrate all that I had recovered,” Francisco said.

He said that event led to an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where she surprised the couple with a $10,000 contribution to support Ride for Hope.

Francisco’s visit to Medora High School was meant to empower the students and staff to make better choices, specifically when driving, because he doesn’t want anyone to get injured like he did or killed in a crash.

“I call it a crash instead of accident because I think it’s important to own driving,” Francisco said. “When you’re driving, you’re driving, not just getting somewhere, and driving is life or death, and it’s really important to take that responsibility.”

There are a couple of simple choices Francisco said students could make. One is for the students not yet driving to speak up if riding in the car with a distracted driver. If the driver is texting, ask for the phone and do the texting for them and choose to be a good example.

Then for the students who have their driver’s licenses, Francisco said there is a “do not disturb while driving” setting or app on many cellphones, and they could choose to use that setting as to not be distracted or tempted.

“I hope my story will encourage and inspire you to make better choices in your own lives and on the roads,” Francisco said. “Remember to choose your response, find meaning in the suffering and forgiveness works and brings life.”

Francisco’s father, John Platillero, also was at the Medora presentation. He said David has been visiting seven to 10 schools per week and has spoken to more than 13,000 students just this year in Maine, Indiana and Delaware.

“It’s all these choices along the way that end up telling a story of redemption,” Platillero said. “Even though he is still a paraplegic, he can walk, where most can’t and are in wheelchairs, and he can share his story.”

Choices Matter is a free program for high schools that brings a speaker with real-life experience with drinking and driving to the students.

There were representatives from that organization at the Medora gymnasium offering activities for students to participate in once Francisco finished his talk.

That included virtual reality goggles available to simulate the legal limit to drive, showing how difficult it is to react and see while intoxicated.

There also was an electronic survey for students to fill out, which will help Choices Matter understand their knowledge of drinking and driving.

Jonathan Cobb, 17, a senior at Medora High School, had the honor of reading the introduction for Francisco at the convocation.

“I thought it was a very inspirational message how he came back from the accident,” Cobb said. “I think it’s a really good thing what he’s doing here after everything he’s gone through. It’s something people need to hear.”

Eighth-grader Samarah Bingham said she really got a lot out of Francisco’s presentation because it taught students how to not drink and drive.

“About his injury, I thought it was scary at first because you don’t know if you’re going to get out of it,” Bingham said. “But he did get out of it, and now, he’s able to walk again.”

Autumn Powers, 16, had not heard of Francisco before his appearance at the school. She said his message really touched her heart, and it was very good to hear his story and see that he’s able to walk again.

There was one student at the convocation who could identify with Francisco on a whole other level than the other students.

Jaylen Spence, 16, said he got a lot out of Francisco’s presentation because he was involved in an accident in August because of a distracted driver.

“His story was pretty great, and it helps because I was in a situation just like that,” Spence said. “I was on a four-wheeler and this car came by, and I don’t have any recollection but just from what I was told.”

Spence said his brother turned around and saw him lying on the road, but he didn’t see what happened.

“I was in the hospital for about a month and had to do therapy,” Spence said. “When I first got to the hospital, the doctor said I wasn’t going to make it, but within two or three days, I was up and talking, and they were blown away.”

Spence said he thought it was really great that Francisco came to the school to speak about his own experience and share his story with the students.

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Distracted driving facts

Each day in the United States, approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.

Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distracted driving can increase the chance of a motor vehicle crash.

There are three main types of distraction:

1. Visual, taking your eyes off the road

2. Manual, taking your hands off the wheel

3. Cognitive, taking your mind off of driving

Distracted driving activities

Anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction. Sending a text message, talking on a cellphone, using a navigation system and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others.

Texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. When you send or read a text message, you take your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, long enough to cover the length a football field while driving at 55 mph.


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David Francisco will release his album and biography, “Lion Heart,” on Feb. 14, 2020.

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