LOGAN — Brittany Stoddard nearly died 13 years ago after a horrific car crash in Logan took the life of her best friend and paralyzed her.
She lost multiple organs, and her spine was severed. For the next few years, Stoddard was in what she calls a "dark, dark place."
Fast forward to today, and you'll find a happy 29-year-old who is lovingly referred to by friends as "Crippled Girl." She's also the newly crowned Ms. Wheelchair Utah 2012.
Despite the circumstances that have led Stoddard to her situation in life, she says she wouldn't change a bit of it.
"I'm very grateful for all that I've experienced," Stoddard said. "I don't think that there's any reason to feel sorry for me."
Stoddard's story goes back to 1998 when, while traveling with two friends, the vehicle she was a passenger in collided head-on with a car coming from the other direction.
Her best friend, Kerstin Spendlove, was killed. The driver, Erin Larsen, was injured. Stoddard, nearly sliced in half by her seat belt, was paralyzed.
Over the next several months, doctors struggled to keep her alive. Ultimately, she lost her spleen, gallbladder, appendix, a kidney and 27 feet of intestines. She had more than 20 surgeries.
In total, Stoddard spent about 13 months in a hospital.
"They had never seen an injury like mine and had someone live," she said of her doctors. "I freak the doctors out. I'm not a textbook case."
By the time she stabilized, doctors told her family she'd live a maximum of five years.
But on the 13th anniversary of her Sept. 10, 1998, crash she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Utah.
Getting to where she is — physically and mentally — has been a struggle. After leaving the hospital, Stoddard moved into a Logan nursing home, where she stayed for five years. Those were some of her worst days.
"It was really, really hard living in a nursing home, knowing I might never get out," she said.
Her dad agrees.
"It was … really difficult for her to find any motivation to move forward," Nyle Stoddard said.
Nyle saw his daughter re-evaluate her life and the changes that had so severely altered it.
"You find yourself a little retrospective," he said. "To be a 16-year-old with the whole world in front of you, excited about the wonderment of the world. To lose your best friend. To find yourself with a serious, limiting disability. (That) dashes hopes of future life all over the place."
Part of the problem was the total parenteral nutrition, a nutritional drip system that caused Stoddard almost constant nausea. After years of the system, she convinced doctor she needed a change and went off of it.
"That cloud started to go away," she said. "I realized there was a light at the end of the tunnel."
Her parents, Nyle and Debbie Stoddard, watched their daughter push forward.
"She really had to re-evaluate her world psychologically," Nyle said. "I see many people who are struggling with disabilities who have opted to take the side of not being happy about it. Brittany has made the choice to embrace it and move forward with it."
By December 2004 she was looking for a way out of the nursing home, and within a month moved to an apartment equipped for those with disabilities. She used home health care until earlier this year, and she now lives with her cat, Jake, in a home in Logan.
"It was the best decision ever," she said of moving to her own home about two years ago. "My health has completely stabilized."
Stoddard has a power wheelchair but finds she's healthier and stronger when she uses her manual chair. She relies on the bus system, friends and family to get around town and get to her part-time job at Woodruff Elementary.
Stoddard hadn't heard of the Ms. Wheelchair contest, under the Hull Foundation, until earlier this year when a friend suggested she apply. In August, Stoddard was part of the group of women who attended the contest orientation and, a week later, sat through judge's interviews in Salt Lake City.
The contest, in its sixth year, is divided into three categories — those 21 and older compete for Ms. Wheelchair, teens and women 12-21 for the Miss Hotwheels crown, and those 12 and younger contend for the title of Little Wheelzz.
She's grateful for the "Ms." part of the title, because it means she doesn't have to stay single during the next year. A week after she was crowned, Stoddard got engaged and plans to marry later this year.
During the competition, she gave a message of gratitude. She's grateful for her accident.
"It was one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me," she said. "I have become someone I would have never become."
She'll spend the next year speaking and participating in events throughout Utah. Next year, she'll fly to the East Coast and compete for the national title.
comments on this story
Stoddard has other goals, as well. After beginning to pursue a teaching degree at Utah State University, she has turned her sights toward nursing.
She'd like to be involved with founding and operating a place in Cache Valley where teens and young adults can rehabilitate from major injuries like hers.
"There was nobody who really realized what I was going through," she said of those first few years after the crash. "It's good for people to have someone to talk to."
By her family, Stoddard is called "Miss Happiness," Nyle Stoddard said.