By Kasey Burgan—
Special to Texan News
Brandi Todd, a 34-year-old mother of two with a habitual smile on her face, remembers the event that changed her life as if it happened yesterday. Almost six years ago, on a Sunday afternoon in March 2010, Todd took her kids to play at Stephenville City Park.
“It had been so cold, and that was the first day that it was really warm and dry,” she recalled.
Todd loaded up her children Olivia and Lincoln and headed from their home in Morgan Mill to Stephenville. They stopped by Sonic to get drinks and snacks before driving to the park. Once there, they spotted an empty bench and claimed it for themselves. Todd played with her children for a while before making her way back to the bench.
“As I watched them play, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’m glad they’re so close so I don’t have to chase them down later,’” Todd said.
Then, the afternoon took a turn for the worse.
“I suddenly got that feeling that somebody was behind me, and then a split second later, it felt like I’d been hit with a baseball bat,” Todd said. “Getting stabbed does not feel like you would think it would feel.”
It was hard for her to breathe, her vision tunneled, her ears rang, and seconds seemed to last for hours, even though everything happened in just a few minutes.
“I remember thinking, ‘What just happened to you?’ I saw a man out of the corner of my eye just walking away from me, and I reached back to my back, and when I pulled my hand away, there was blood on my hand,” Todd recalled.
As she watched the man walk away, she hoped other people would see him so there would be more eyewitnesses. Todd pointed to him and tried to say that he was her attacker, but she found that she couldn’t even speak.
“My voice was coming out in squeaks,” she said.
Olivia noticed that something was wrong and started shouting for help. People then began to rush over to her. Todd said that a nurse who was at the park with her own children carefully moved her hair, told her she had been stabbed in the back and covered the wound with her jacket. While she waited for EMTs to arrive, Todd told herself to stay calm and not cry.
“My kids were there, and any mom will tell you that they would never want their kids more scared than they had to be,” she said. “I didn’t want my kids to see me cry.”
Todd was taken by CareFlite to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth before being transferred to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where she remained for a month for additional treatment.
Her attacker, Michael A. Howard, in October 2010 was tried and found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a maximum $10,000 fine.
Todd’s injuries left her paralyzed from the waist down.
“The only way my life hasn’t changed since then is that I still hang out with my family,” she said. “Everything else has changed.”
Todd’s life now involves a lot more planning and thinking ahead. When shopping, she has to consider what stores are wheelchair-accessible, which ones have ramps and even how steep the ramps are.
“There are some stores in town that I don’t shop at, simply because it’s hard for me to get around in,” Todd said. She added that everything from her clothes to her vehicles are so different.
However, none of this stops Todd from trying new things.
“When I try things for the first time, I’m usually a spectacular failure at them,” she said with a laugh. “I will utterly embarrass myself trying something new, but if I’m given enough chances, I can figure out a way to make it work. Life is just better if you can laugh at yourself.”
Todd even posted “semi-pro cripple” in her job description on her personal Facebook.
“I was an amateur cripple for a long time, but now I think I qualify to be semi-pro,” she said jokingly. “The day I become a professional cripple will be bittersweet, because I’ll have been crippled long enough to be a professional, but at least I’ll be pro!”
After Todd’s attack appeared in the news, she said that members of her church in Morgan Mill remodeled her house to make it wheelchair-accessible. They built on a larger bathroom and put concrete underneath her previously gravel-covered carport to make it easier for her to wheel to her car.
“I thank God every time it rains, ‘God bless those men who put that concrete down,’ because there’s no way I could have wheeled in and out of the mud and gravel in the rain or snow,” Todd said. Simple things like that that meant a lot to her because “it amounts to me being able to live alone.”
Todd mentioned that many people held fundraisers to help her pay off her medical bills.
She said she is grateful for all the people who have prayed for her. She also discovered which friends will go the extra mile to maintain their friendship despite the small everyday challenges she must face.
“I’m very blessed,” she said with a smile.
Todd is involved with a group in Fort Worth called Disabled Victims of Crime, an organization that raises money for victims of violent crimes.
“If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have known how to go about finding the help that we’ve been able to find,” she said.
After the attack, Todd and her family were not sure where to go for help, but the group stepped up and assisted her.
“It’s been really nice to work with them because they’re an awesome organization that helps other people who have been victims of violent crimes,” Todd said.
She hopes her children have learned some lessons since the attack.
“The best thing that comes from this is that my children learn that life is not fair and that bad things are going to happen to you,” Todd said. “The only thing you can do about those bad things is decide how you’re going to react to them. Are you going to let those bad things bring you down, or are you going to be positive about it?”
“When bad things happen, it doesn’t give you an excuse to give up or blame someone else. It gives you a chance to see what you’re made of,” she added.
Todd mentioned that her children had to grow up very quickly because of her paralysis. They had to take on extra chores and help her around the house.
“I know that my kids are both stronger,” she said. “They are capable of a lot more than other children their age. They look at other people with differences, and they understand what it’s like to be different now and that being different isn’t always bad.”
When asked what advice she would give to others who have survived violent crimes, Todd said, “Don’t stop, no matter how slow you’re going. Even if it’s a crawl and you’re dragging yourself, don’t stop. The minute you stop, you’ve just lost. Keep moving, no matter what, no matter what it takes.”