Taylor Swift has inspired many young girls with her music, but it was the pop star’s kindness that will continue to inspire 7-year-old Grace Markel, who was hit and severely injured by a speeding, uninsured driver while walking into the pop singer’s concert this summer.
Amy and Will Markel, of Columbia, Mo., bought their only child, Grace, a huge Swift fan, tickets to the singer’s Chicago concert on Aug. 10.
After exiting a taxi at the concert venue with her father, Grace was hit by an SUV traveling at what was estimated to be 30 miles per hour. The driver was uninsured and had a suspended license.
Grace’s dream night turned into a nightmare ordeal: Instead of attending her idol’s concert, the little girl spent the following two days at Children’s Mercy Hospital, where she was treated after suffering two skull fractures, a slight left orbital fracture, multiple head lacerations, a severe concussion, and road rash over her face and body.
According to Grace’s parents, she has remained positive throughout her recovery. To celebrate her spirit, they bought Grace tickets to Swift’s Red concert in Nashville Sept. 21, and the singer surprised the family by bringing them backstage before her entrance.
When Swift, 23, emerged from her dressing room, “Taylor greeted Grace by her name and immediately knelt down and hugged her,” Amy Markel tells PEOPLE. “She told Grace she had a cold and asked Grace to sing extra loud to help her out.”
Swift thanked the little girl for wearing one of her shirts and autographed the sleeve with, “I heart Grace! Taylor,” before putting her arms around the little girl for photos and giving Grace another huge hug before taking the stage.
According to Amy, “Taylor’s mother told Grace she was so sorry about what happened to her, and she gave me a hug saying she sympathized with what we’d been through. It was so surreal and amazing.”
Although Grace was nervous to meet the singer, she said Swift was even more “nice and tall and pretty” than she expected.
“[The meeting] was just a warm and genuine exchange that made it feel like time has stopped, and it was just the two of them,” Amy says.
And, just like in many of Swift’s songs, there is an inspiring and happy ending: Grace was recently cleared to return to school and her activities.
“It’s so hard to reconcile what we witnessed at the time of the accident with her amazing recovery,” Grace’s mother says. “We feel so very lucky and blessed.”
• Reporting by JULIE JORDAN