For David Francisco, walking to a podium to speak to students at Sanford School last week was a very big deal. The walking part, that is.
Three years ago the 27-year-old singer-songwriter and one-time American Idol contestant was struck by a driver who ran a red light, leaving Francisco with a spinal cord injury that initially left him paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors said he would likely never walk again.
With countless hours of physical therapy and an incredible level of perseverance following his first glimpse of hope – a slight twitch in one toe of one foot a few months after the accident – Francisco has defied the odds.
He can now slowly, carefully walk across the stage at dozens of schools across the country like Sanford delivering a story of redemption, hope and the will it takes to overcome life’s challenges.
Joined at each school by his wife Kristi, a singer like him, Francisco also brings a message about the life-changing consequences of distracted driving.
In his recent presentation to a rapt audience of high schoolers at Sanford, Francisco opened with a self-narrated video with photos depicting an active childhood, a trip to Europe, and the crippling effects of his injury – his emaciated legs, the agony of trying to move them – as he describes the brief seconds that changed his life.
“Choices matter. And that day the driver’s choice to drive distracted forever changed my life,” he told students.
“I had all these dreams, you guys. I know you all have dreams. Just imagine, you finally pursue your dream, and then three weeks later, it’s all gone. Like you’re waking up paralyzed in a hospital, and it wasn’t even your fault,” he said.
Francisco’s dream was to become a professional singer-songwriter and recording artist. Three weeks after starting graduate music engineering classes at the renowned Blackbird Academy in Nashville – he biked to class every day – tragedy struck.
Francisco grew up in Knoxville, where he played a variety of sports and developed a love of music at an early age. He was living in Nashville and running a recording studio when a driver under the influence of drugs t-boned the biker at an intersection.
Francisco brought his story to Sanford and seven other Delaware schools over a three-day period as part of a driver awareness program administered by the Office of Highway Safety.
He flashed a magnetic smile as he strummed his guitar and sang several songs written throughout his journey of recovery. Some recalled the vivid torment of learning about the loss of the use of his legs and the feeling that he would be entirely dependent on others for the rest of his life. Like his recovery, his songs showed a progression, revealing greater hope as the artist’s condition improved.
Francisco’s relaxed, musical delivery of his message of driver awareness made a big impression on the Sanford students.
“I thought the most powerful thing were the songs, specifically, the progression,” said 10th grader Lia Dougherty.“At the beginning, it’s him coming to terms with what has happened, and at the end it’s about his full recovery and how he was dealing with it.”
David Francisco Platillero (his middle name is his stage name) calls the event a ‘crash’ and not an ‘accident’ because he says the driver, who he has since forgiven, had a choice that day whether to step behind the wheel of a car influenced by drugs.
Francisco said, “I like to tell kids, ‘Make choices that bring life. I have had to make those choices in my recovery that have brought me to where I am today. And I have a very full life now. I am very thankful.”
Kristi Platillerois a big part of that life. The two met once before the crash, and Kristi reached out after hearing David had been hospitalized. The musicians fell in love while Francisco was still in a wheelchair. She told students, “He wasn’t confined by the wheelchair. His personality leaped out of it!”
Francisco’s, “She Makes Me Want to Sing,” (available on Apple Music and Spotify) was written for Kristi, who he says helped power his amazing recovery.
Once an avid cyclist, Francisco is now exhausted after standing for 30 minutes. Not one to hold onto hate or resentment, he met the driver of the vehicle that struck him at a coffee shop eight months after the accident, and the two hugged each other. Kristi called their meeting “a beautiful moment of redemption.”
Forgiveness and acceptance were key parts of his message.
“I think the biggest thing was how David learned to forgive the driver,” said sophomore Ananya Jain. That was something I didn’t expect. I thought his talk would focus more on driver warnings and statistics. But when he embraced what happened and talked about finding purpose – that was my big take away.”
Francisco gained nationwide notoriety last year when he made it all the way to Hollywood Week as a contestant on American Idol. He and Kristi now live in Los Angeles, where Francisco owns a music recording studio. He’s now working a new album and helping many American Idol alum record their own LPs.
It’s not the path he envisioned for himself. But David Francisco manages to keep his dreams alive while working to inspire others.
“I am a new driver — I’m almost 18,” said Sanford Senior Lilly Goldberg. “So his talk definitely moved me. It was helpful so that we know how to make better decisions about driving and focus on helping people to stay safe.”