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Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Distinguished Veteran Leads by Example

In May, Sean Stoddard will be honored as a Distinguished Veteran after he was nominated as part of the Salute Our Vets 10K/5K/1-Mile Fun Run, presented by the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. But the real story is how he got here, and it starts with his saving a woman who was locked in a trunk behind a Smitty’s grocery and left to die.

“Never give up. Love yourself and others, and accept your weaknesses. Whatever you can do, do it.”

Distinguished Veteran Leads by Example

In May, Sean Stoddard will be honored as a Distinguished Veteran after he was nominated as part of the Salute Our Vets 10K/5K/1-Mile Fun Run, presented by the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona. But the real story is how he got here, and it starts with his saving a woman who was locked in a trunk behind a Smitty’s grocery and left to die.

“Never give up. Love yourself and others, and accept your weaknesses. Whatever you can do, do it.”

From a distance, Sean had noticed what looked like a squirrel scamper across the trunk area of a nearby car. As he and a friend approached the car, he heard a voice cry for help, prompting him to alert a local store manager. When the police came and pulled the bloodied and bruised woman from the trunk, they discovered that “the squirrel” was actually the bloodstained undergarment that she managed to toss through a crack in the trunk.

Sean understood the significance of the rescue. “She had been beaten and left to die. It was only through a stroke of luck that she survived.” The incident reinforced his understanding that life can change in an instant, something he would re-experience years later.

The Mesa native joined the Army soon after 9/11. After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood (MO), he returned to Mesa for what amounted to eight-hours of training before being deployed for a year-long tour in Cuba. He was also stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In between tours, he worked in construction, but his love of serving and desire to strengthen those in need led him down a different path.

He applied and was chosen to be an officer with the Mesa Police Department. He valued the many years he dedicated to being a police officer and soldier while he and his wife raised their five children. “I loved working with the men and women I call my extended family,” Sean says.

On August 11, 2020, his life changed.

Sean was on assignment as Vice President Mike Pence was due to arrive in town. There was a large ladder on the freeway, and Sean needed to remove it to ensure a clear road.

He began to follow proper protocol, initiating his traffic lights and coming to a stop, when he was hit by a Cadillac Escalade going about 75 MPH, crushing his car, and putting him into a coma. The collision was labeled as a prioritized “fatal accident,” meaning a police officer was down.

Rushed to the hospital, Sean was labeled as a “3” on the Glasgow Coma scale (“2” denotes dying, “1” dead). His wife had been told he had multiple injuries to the brain and could wake up not knowing anything.

Sean says, “I have no memory of this. I was in a coma for a week or two. When I came out of it, I did not know or understand most things. The best way I can put it is that my brain was deleted, as if it was buried or covered. I forgot basic information about people in my life, such as names, faces, and voices.”

In the ensuing months, he had to relearn how to eat and speak, as well as recognize shapes, numbers, colors, and remember history. “This was during the height of COVID, which was also confusing for folks regarding masks and causes of sickness.” With a wry smile, he adds, “Good times.”

Today, Sean has trouble distinguishing between some injuries from the collision and those he received from tours in the Middle East. Both mental and physical service battle scars continue to impact his life as he continually adapts and overcomes.

He has a CPAP/APAP machine to help him sleep better and orthotics to help him walk more evenly. Various therapies have included traditional psychological, Hyperbaric Oxygen, chiropractic, and nutritional. It has been an eye-opener about all the modalities involved in the process of healing and recovery.

Sean has also been involved in several support groups and activities presented by the Brain Injury Alliance. They help him connect with others and learn more about becoming Sean 2.0.

Since the accident over two years ago, he has been laser-focused on his recovery, striving to move forward on an incremental basis. “I originally had a goal of improving 1% per day, but it’s currently 1% per month, which is more realistic,” Sean admits. “I also enjoy encouraging those around me.”

This past fall, Sean took all five of his kids on the Salute Our Vets 1-mile course in Tucson, urging them to go the distance. They all made it through, with him setting the example.

“In the Army, we have a saying that as we get tired, we need to take a knee, drink water, rest, make a plan, then execute the plan,” Sean explains. “We all need rest, we all need purpose, and we all need joy. My hope is this will help folks who are struggling while away from family, friends, work, and more.”

In looking at the big picture, Sean’s faith has been key in seeing him through challenging times, and also better helps him treat each day as a gift. He encourages his fellow survivors: “Never give up. Love yourself and others and accept your weaknesses. Whatever you can do, do it.”

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Association of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

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