VICKY Smith was 17 when she started living in a Ballarat nursing home.
Vicky's youth was stolen from her when the car in which she was a front-seat passenger veered off the Western Highway near Burrumbeet and slammed into a tree.
She spent five months in a coma and awoke to find her speech and mobility dramatically and permanently compromised.
Vicky spent 23 years living in conditions designed for the elderly before finding respite in shared supported accommodation in Bendigo.
Vicky shares her story "The So-called Heaven" in the Bendigo Digital Story Exhibition on show at the newly redeveloped Bendigo Library.
"I worked 18 years to get out of Ballarat," Vicky said.
"When I had the accident I had to move into a nursing home.
"There was no other choices for me at that time, so at 17 years old, I went to live with the elderly at the Queen Elizabeth Geriatric Home."
Vicky said it was hard being surrounded by people in their 80s but she eventually made friends.
"In the nursing home I got sick of watching all my loved ones die," she said.
In the nursing home I got sick of watching all my loved ones die.
"In one year I lost eight close friends."
One of those friends was her fiance David, an older man she’d met in the nursing home.
"David made me very happy," she said.
"There was nothing going on, only cuddles and kisses.
"My dad wasn't happy, he was old enough to be my father, but I loved him.
"One of my neighbours, who was also younger, got married and moved out of the home.
"I thought maybe I could too."
Vicky started a campaign to get young people out of nursing homes and, eventually, moved into a group home in Bendigo.
"I'm finally happy now," she said.
"Every day I look at the photo of me and David at the Robbin Hood and I know that when I go to the so-called Heaven I'm going to marry him."
Vicky's story is just one of many featured in the Bendigo Digital Story Exhibition.
The Summer Foundation works tirelessly to get young people out of nursing homes with the exhibition designed to promote awareness about the issue.
Summer Foundation chief executive Di Winkler said the stories were very personal and demonstrated great courage by the storytellers.
"The Summer Foundation is proud to support people with disability and their families to share their story," she said.
"We share a belief that people with a disability should have the right to make the same choices that the rest of us take for granted - where they live, who they live with and what they do during the day.
"We are confident that this exhibition will go a long way in educating the public so that they understand why young people shouldn't be forced to live in nursing homes simply because there is nowhere else for them."
For more details visit www.summerfoundation.org.au or watch Vicky Smith's story on online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-N5vvxgh8Y