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'It hurts to be alive': Teen warns about car surfing dangers

'Surfing' on top of a moving vehicle, an incredibly dangerous stunt popular with teenagers, is a risky and deadly game, says one family whose daughter narrowly survived an accident. NBC's Kerry Sanders reports.

“We didn’t think it would be dangerous.”

When Hannah Huntoon hopped on the back of a friend’s moving car two months ago, she thought she was just going for a quick thrill, car-surfing like so many other teens these days. But shortly after the 16-year-old stood up on the car’s trunk while holding on to the back windshield wiper, things went terribly wrong.

The Florida teen lost her balance and fell off backwards striking her head hard on the pavement. Though Huntoon survived, she suffered a catastrophic brain injury and has had to learn all over how to walk and talk.

Huntoon is just one of the latest victims of a dangerous stunt that has been around for decades, but as videos proliferate online, experts worry the stunt is becoming increasingly popular among teens and 20-somethings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that between 1990 and 2008, there were at least 99 serious injuries – 58 of them fatal --  in people who had tried car surfing.  The CDC findings, the most recent available, are based on newspaper reports but may be underestimating how many cases of car surfing-related accidents go unreported.

While Huntoon faces a tough recovery, she could be considered lucky. In 2008, another Florida teen, 18-year-old Cameron Bieberle died after banging his head on the pavement. Bieberle had been riding in a shopping cart hooked to the bumper of a car. Bieberle was thrown 27 feet when the car and cart hit a speed bump. He landed on his head and died shortly afterwards.

“It’s destroyed our life,” Darda Bieberle, Cameron’s father, told TODAY last year.

Huntoon and her family hope that by speaking out they’ll prevent other tragedies.

“We will teach and educate parents and children that car surfing is a stupid choice and drivers need to take the responsibility to not drive when their friends want to make a dumb choice,” Constance Huntoon, Hannah’s mother,  told TODAY Tuesday.

When Hannah fell, her friends raced to the Huntoon house, where Hannah’s parents were sitting on the porch.

“The girls were screaming, ‘Hannah’s hurt. Hannah’s hurt real bad. You’ve got to come,’” Constance Huntoon remembers.

When the Huntoons reached the site of the accident they were horrified.

“I looked and there’s her body lying in the middle of the road,” her father David told TODAY.

“We got to the hospital and they pulled us in to show us the skull fracture,” her mother Constance said.  “It was cracked completely through.”

Doctors couldn’t give a prognosis. They put Hannah in a medically induced coma and removed parts of her skull to minimize the swelling of her brain.

After three days, Hannah started to improve.

“On Mother’s Day I got my wish,” Constance said. “They removed the vent. She continued breathing and every day, she came out of the coma a little bit more.”

But that was just that was just the beginning of a long road of months or possibly years of rehab for Hannah, who now wears a helmet to protect the parts of her brain exposed when sections of skull were removed.

“My life before the accident was fun,” Hannah told TODAY. “I would be out all the time, always exercising and dancing. Now I can’t really do a lot of that. Everything’s more difficult. It hurts to be alive.”

Hannah now spends every day in physical therapy, lucky to be alive, but saddened by all she’s lost.

 A red heart marks the spot where Hannah’s head hit the pavement. But Hannah wants to do more to warn others of what’s at stake.

“No one should car surf,” she told TODAY. “It’s just not a good idea. It’s too dangerous.”

Giving her daughter a kiss, Constance said, “We love you. We’re going to do good from this.”

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