Greenville -- Highway 308 was slick with rain the night Drew Rice's cell phone slid off the seat and onto the floor of his pickup truck.

The 16-year-old had just texted a buddy after playing basketball at the Presbyterian College gym, and he was expecting a response.

But at 70 mph, when the Laurens teen reached down to retrieve the phone, he lost control and ran off the road, crashing into a tree.

Pinned between the dashboard and the seat, his legs were crushed and his right elbow was broken. Blood flowed from a gash over his left eye.

But his most serious injuries were internal -- a partially torn aorta, the largest artery in the body, and a ruptured heart valve.

Nine out of 10 people with a torn aorta bleed to death at the scene, said Barry Davis, one of two surgeons who operated on Drew.

But even with such critical injuries, Drew came away with just one small scar on his chest thanks to advances in cardiovascular surgery. Tonight, he'll graduate from Clinton High School.

That Saturday evening in March 2009, Drew's mom, Angie, had just started making supper. His dad, David, was working in the yard when the phone rang with word that their son had been in a wreck.

David raced to the scene, climbing into the back of the truck to hold Drew's head through the shattered glass.

It took emergency workers more than an hour to extract Drew from the wreckage. He remembers it all but the impact -- the sound of the roof being sawed off, the EMTs pulling him out, the pain and the fear.

"I said, 'Dad, I'm going to die right now,' " he recalled. "And he said, 'No you're not.' "

"It was a scary time," said David, 44. "Maybe the worst moment of my life."

"I knew it was bad," added Angie, her voice quivering. "I honestly thought I had lost my child."

The fog and rain meant Drew couldn't be transported to medical help by helicopter. Instead, he was put in an ambulance with two paramedics while a firefighter drove the nearly hour-long ride to Greenville Memorial Hospital.

The Rices followed, praying that he would survive.

At Memorial, Eugene Langan III, program director of vascular surgery, decided to repair Drew's aorta endoscopically rather than through conventional surgery.

So instead of making an incision across the left side of his chest and going through the ribs to clamp off the aorta, he threaded a catheter from the femoral artery in his groin to his chest, similar to angioplasty.

Through the catheter Langan deployed a compressed Gore-Tex and nickel stent graft that expanded to the size of a garden hose inside the aorta.

Repairing the injury this way reduces the risks associated with open surgery, which can include heart attack, paralysis, loss of a leg, infection and death, Langan said.

"The biggest risk is if it ruptures during trauma," he said. "If you survive, it can be repaired. The question is when to fix it and how."

Drew spent three weeks in the hospital, during which his legs and elbow also were repaired. In September he returned to have surgery on the heart valve.

Between recuperating and rehab, Drew missed the last half of the school year.

But he managed to catch up, using his own valve surgery for his senior project, which included a report, models of the heart, and even a video of his surgery.

It earned him an A.

After eight surgeries, he graduates from Clinton High with an eye on studying graphic art.

"Fourteen months ago I would have never thought we are at the point that we are," said Angie, 43. "He had the best attitude and has shown so much strength and determination."

When Drew first started to drive again, the Rices were understandably anxious.

To ease their fears, he suggested that at least initially, a parent or other adult ride with him. That was something they could live with.

But Drew, who turns 18 Monday, admits he still talks on the phone while driving, though he pulls over to text.