All-American girl Niki Taylor was one of the most in-demand supermodels of the ‘90s, but her life would forever change on April 28, 2001.
The 26-year-old single mother was riding in a friend’s car in Atlanta when driver James Renegar ran off the road and hit a utility pole. According to police, he apparently looked down at his cell phone before losing control of his 1993 Nissan Maxima.
Taylor, who was wearing a seatbelt, initially appeared to be unhurt, until she experienced severe abdominal pain. By the time Taylor arrived at Grady Memorial Hospital, she lost nearly 80 percent of her blood. Her liver had been cut in half by the accident and she flatlined twice.
Still, she was determined to stay alive.
“I wanted to get back and see my twin boys,” Taylor told Fox News. “They were very young at the time, 6-years-old. And they weren’t allowed in the ICU unit. My mom put pictures on the ceiling [in my hospital room] of my kids, my dogs, family members and friends. I just remember thinking, ‘I had to get better. I gotta see my boys.’”
The now-42-year-old was also thinking about her younger sister Krissy Taylor. The two models were inseparable until Krissy died in 1995 at age 17 from a rare, undiagnosed heart condition.
“I couldn’t imagine my mother losing another daughter too,” she recalled. “That was always in the back of my mind. I had to fight. And the world wasn’t done with me yet.”
It took over 100 units of blood to save her life. And Taylor, who had modeled since age 14, put her successful career on hold to recover and undergo numerous surgeries. However, her goal was to survive.
“I wasn’t thinking about work at the time,” she explained. “I had a lot of scars. My body was very different. I was just happy to be recovering. I had to take a long time off to get healthy again. It took years before I felt 100 percent [better] because I also had to get back surgery and get rods in my back. So that was another couple of years. But I was also with my boys. I got to fall in love again. I had more babies. That was my focus, my family.”
And even while Taylor healed, she kept wondering who saved her life.
“Every night after my accident, I was going to bed, during my recovery, wondering 'Whose blood do I have inside me?'” she said. “Because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all of their units of blood… I lost half of my liver… I just kept thinking, ‘If I didn’t have this blood, there’s no way doctors could have done this surgery, there’s no way they could kept performing surgery after surgery… I just wanted to know who was that person who rolled up their sleeve and gave me a second chance at life.”
While it took more than 300 blood donors to provide the blood Taylor needed to survive, she had the chance to meet 15 of those "superheroes" through the American Red Cross in 2013. They ranged from ages 18-60 and were all of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
“I got to look at them in their eyes and hug them,” she recalled. “There was one guy who gives every three months, there was a high school student who gave for the first time — it was such a great opportunity. And the doctor who performed surgery on me during those first 24 hours was there with his nurse too.”
Since her near-fatal car crash, the mother of four is happily raising her family while pursuing modeling again. In May, she appeared in Swimsuits For All’s summer 2017 campaign alongside plus-size model Ashley Graham and singer Teyana Taylor in a “Baywatch”-inspired getup. It was her first swimsuit campaign since the ‘90s, one that she called “nerve wracking,” but “empowering.”
“I feel like I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my whole life,” she insisted. “I feel like I’m in great shape. Yes, I still have the scars to remind me that my life was saved. But I still have a lot of work to do here… I’m grateful just to be doing everything I’ve done.”
But Taylor’s work isn’t just spotted in front of a lens. She’s also a proud supporter of the American Red Cross and has tirelessly encouraged her fans to donate blood, especially during the summer months. She said there is a shortage in the summer due to potential donors traveling on vacation.
On June 14, recognized as World Blood Donor Day, she participated in the ninth annual Nexcare Give Campaign, which offered specially designed bandages as a “badge of honor” to donors nationwide.
As Taylor continues to pursue her passions, she’s aware the modeling world has a completely new look these days. Back in the '90s, stars like Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Stephanie Seymour ruled the runways. Today, the fashion scene is run by It-girls, like the Hadid sisters and Kendall Jenner, among others.
“It’s crazy how many followers they have on social media,” said Taylor. “That’s where it’s at, that’s where it’s headed. And they’re gorgeous… I’m just glad I get to be a part of it still, at 42 years old!”