After surviving a nearly fatal car accident four months ago, the 18-year-old from Parma admits she's just happy to be able to attend her high school graduation on Tuesday night.
On Friday, Jan. 16, Underwood was driving home from school on Highway 62 near Risco when she crossed the center line, overcorrected and overturned, landing in a water-filled ditch.
Underwood and her 16-year-old sister, Staci Rickman, were thrown through the passenger window of the vehicle.
"Kelli was thrown first and then Staci was thrown after her," explained the girls' father, Roy Rickman. "When emergency crews arrived, they said Kelli was lying about 75 feet and Staci about 50 feet ahead of the vehicle."
Underwood bruised her brain; broke her pelvic bone in four places, her right elbow and hip; damaged her spleen and liver; and punctured a lung.
Rickman broke her back and neck and also suffered damage to her spleen and liver. Her heart was also bruised. She wears a back brace and had to wear a neck brace for about three months.
When the sisters' parents received the phone call from emergency personnel, Roy Rickman admitted he and his wife, Virginia, were scared to death.
"The amazing thing with Staci was that her spinal cord was not severed," Rickman said about his daughter. "If her spinal cord would have been severed, she would be paralyzed."
Underwood was wheelchair-bound until February and recently had an external stabilizing bar removed from her pelvis. "It was weird," Underwood said about returning home from her brief hospital stay. "My dogs didn't want to be around me because they thought I was a monster.
At first Underwood was dependent on her parents to do things for her, she said. "Finally I told them to let me be. It might take a little longer, but I'm doing it myself," the teenager recalled.
Only half a credit short of completing her graduation requirements, Underwood was forced to do homebound schooling. Melanie Crow, a New Madrid County Middle School teacher who also lives in Parma, became Underwood's homebound teacher.
"When we first started working together, she was in a wheelchair and couldn't walk. She's had some memory difficulties, but she's very strong to go through what she went through," Crow said.
Underwood's teachers would give the homebound coordinator Underwood's work, and the coordinator would then bring the work to Crow.
"Kelli has overcome a lot of physical and memory obstacles," Crow said. "And she still has a few obstacles to overcome, but once she does that and sets her goals, I think she has a very bright future ahead of her."
Underwood finished her physical and occupational rehab at the end of March. Although Underwood is wheelchair free, she still tires easily and struggles with her short-term memory, she said.
"Kelli was under a lot of stress because she received such severe head injuries -- her body went through a tremendous shock," Roy Rickman said.
Prior to the accident, Underwood was very good in math, she said. Now, she said, she has trouble just remembering a grocery list.
"The doctor would say a list to me out loud, and I couldn't repeat everything back to him," Underwood explained. "It's pretty frustrating not remembering something somebody just told you."
To help with her memory, Underwood is currently undergoing a psychological exam in preparation to her hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
"It looks like a tanning bed and I have to lay there for two hours five times a week and let the oxygen get to my brain," Underwood explained about the treatment.
Despite all of their injuries, Underwood said she and her sister try to keep a positive attitude about their situation. "I know I've missed Senior Skip Day, but I went to prom and I'll be able to go to graduation," Underwood said gratefully.
Following graduation, Underwood said she will pursue a degree in nursing from Three Rivers Community College, or if her memory doesn't get any better, she said she will enroll at Trendsetters School of Cosmetology.
"This year I have learned quite a bit about being the patient, and it gave me another view to care a little more and be more attentive to the patient -- and to warn people when you're giving them a shot," Underwood added.
Underwood said she's also learned the importance of wearing a seatbelt.
"I know I'm lucky," Underwood said. "I'm just glad I'll be walking across the stage instead of rolling across the stage to accept my diploma."