By LISA SEISER Editor | Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 8:56 pm

HARLINGEN — Nine years ago, her life changed. An accident with an 18-wheeler while on her way home left Debra Cruz permanently disabled.

At that time, nobody thought she would now be telling her story to politicians and their staffs on Capitol Hill as part of the “Sorrow to Strength” event held by the Trucking Safety Coalition.

Cruz recently returned after several days in Washington D.C. where she had a one-on-one discussion with Congressman Filemon Vela and was able to meet with the staff of Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Their jaws just dropped when I told them my story,” Cruz said.

She talked about issues regarding truckers, including sleep deprivation, drug and alcohol use and proper testing and licensing.

Debra said the people she met with were very interested in her story.

Harry Adler, public affairs manager at the Truck Safety Coalition, said Vela was engaged during the 20-minute discussion with Debra.

“You could see it in his eyes,” Debra said about Vela as she explained what happened to her.

Adler said the discussions can result in new laws and efforts to improve safety.

“He was very interested in submitting something,” Debra said about a possible bill.

Adler said Vela appeared to be interested in backing and supporting any bills coming forward that would improve truck safety.

“To hear from one of his constituents about their story is what will motivate him to do something,” Adler said. “He was moved by Debra’s experience.”

Debra was among about 60 to 70 families from about 20 different states who attended the event aimed at making lawmakers aware of changes that could be made to the industry to make it safer.

Many of those who attended were family members of those killed in truck accidents.

Debra also was able to see and briefly talk with Ted Cruz for a few minutes, even grab a picture with him.

Adler said she was disappointed Cruz was not in their meeting, but as they were leaving, he happened to be coming around the corner.

Debra and Cruz were able to speak for a few minutes about her story and then take a picture together.

Overall, while she wasn’t able to speak to all the lawmakers in person, Debra said the visit went well.

It was her second time in Washington. The Truck Safety Coalition paid for her trip and organized the meetings.

“It went really well,” she said.