Aubrey High School senior Brandon Dodd set a goal last year to do something that his classmates would take for granted.
He wanted to walk across the stage to accept his diploma.
On the evening of May 26 at the University of North Texas Coliseum — and before a standing ovation and emotional family members — Dodd achieved his goal.
Dodd, who just turned 19, can’t take walking for granted. His health suffered setbacks in the months leading up to graduation.
He was born with spina bifida, which is a neurological defect that can cause paralysis from the knees down, said his mother, Heather Rich. Dodd has had to endure some recent surgeries.
Dodd moved to Aubrey when he was about 12, Rich said. Prior to that, the family lived in Allen.
“To be honest, it was awesome – it was better than I had hoped,” Dodd said about walking across the stage. “It couldn’t have gone better. This has just been a long, long battle that we’ve been going through the last few months with surgeries and everything. So it was amazing.”
Rich explained what got him to that moment on stage.
“When he was younger, he was able to walk with leg braces and as he got older and taller, it just became more difficult to do,” she said. “And after a series of infections in his leg, at about age 13, he was wheelchair bound.”
About this time last year, Dodd decided that he wanted to walk across the stage for graduation, Rich said. That goal would require some surgeries because both of his legs at that point were contracted, so he could not extend both of them all the way out.
In September, he had a total knee replacement on his left leg. He developed some issues with healing, which is just a consequence of his having spina bifida, Rich said.
“Due to the healing issues, he became very sick and contracted MRSA along with two other infections,” she said. “He was having to go in and out of the hospital over a four-month period of time and had to have IV antibiotics continuously for about three months and had to have a total of six surgeries to try to clear the infected tissue out of that left leg. Because of the infection, once they were able to clear the infection itself, the implant they put in was no longer stable. So they had to go back in and replace the knee replacement that they had just done three or four months before.”
He had his right knee replaced in February and everything went fine with that procedure, Rich said. He had no infections with the replacement, and he moved into the rehab hospital rather quickly and did a couple of weeks of rehab. He was a day from being discharged to come home when his right femur broke.
“It’s just a spontaneous thing that can sometimes happen to people who have been in a wheelchair for a long period of time,” Rich said. “So he had to be transported back to the hospital and had to have another surgery where he had pins and rods laid from his kneecap all the way up to his hip on his right leg.”
“That part was a little frustrating, to stay the least,” Dodd said. “I was just about two days away from getting out. I was walking, doing therapy and I had taken a step and spiral-fractured my right femur.”
The femur took about a month to heal. Dodd spent a couple of days in the hospital and then went back to the rehab hospital for three more weeks, and he was finally was able to come home toward the end of March. He kept up with schoolwork online, which was tough to do because he was sick, Rich said.
“But all he wanted to do was get back to Aubrey High School and get back to his friends,” Rich said. “Once he was stable enough, he transferred back to Aubrey High School and from April until the end of the school year, he was doing some make-up work in some of his classes to make sure he could walk with his classmates. So his ultimate goal was he would go walk across that stage come hell or high water, and he was able to do it.”
Dodd was just “elated” to walk across the stage, Rich said, and was “very, very surprised” that he received a standing ovation.
He left his wheelchair and used a walker to accomplish walking on stage.
“He wasn’t expecting that,” Rich said about the reception. “But he was really excited that everybody was excited for him, and he felt like everybody in the audience, even if they didn’t know him or know his story, was able to kind of feel how difficult it was for him to get there and so he was just incredibly proud and so excited to be able to achieve what he set out to do.”
Dodd’s family was proud to see that he achieved what he set out to do over a year earlier, and family members thought about the struggles and surgeries he faced in order to graduate on time with his friends and walk across the stage the way he wanted to.
He said he hopes eventually to be able to walk, although not as he used to fully on his own, but he hopes to be able to walk with a cane or crutches.
Dodd wants to work on obtaining his driver’s license now and then he plans to attend NCTC in the spring and spend two years there getting his basics. He then wants to go to the training program at University of North Texas for wound care nursing. He hopes to work some at either Children’s Medical Center Dallas or Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas.
“Those are two hospitals that have been very huge in my life,” he said. “They have helped me through so much in my earlier years when I was little. Over the span of my life, I’ve had a little under 30 surgeries altogether and the majority of them were when I was younger.”
He said with spina bifida, most surgeries have to be done when a person is younger.
“And really, it’s just been family that has been helping me all the way,” he said.
Dodd also is the son of Chad Dodd.