‘I owe it to my family to walk again?

Ortonville – Brad Erlandson celebrates Father’s Day from the confines of a wheelchair.
‘My role as a father has changed, like a referee I can’t physically pull the kids apart, but I can speak to them as a father’they’ll obey my words.?
‘God designed me to walk. The wheelchair and walker are just a temporary situation. I want to do things with my kids around the house again. I will walk again.?
Fatherhood changed for Erlandson late in the afternoon of April 26, 2002 after he stopped at a Kroger store in Lake Orion just off Baldwin Road south of Clarkston Road.
An Ortonville resident, Erlandson then 43, had just completed another day at Superior Redi Mix in Auburn Hills where he worked as a cement truck operator and driving instructor for the past 11 years.
After exiting the store’s parking lot Erlandson turned his 1996 Chevrolet Blazer north on Baldwin Road.
The next mile would change his life forever.
According to police reports, a southbound Saturn driven by a 38-year-old Oxford woman swerved across the center line crushing the driver’s side of Erlandson’s red Blazer. The impact forced the Blazer off the road where it rolled several times.
Witnesses at a nearby soccer field adjacent to Baldwin Road heard the crash and reported a body flying through the air landing nearly 150 feet from the vehicle.
That body was Brad Erlandson.
The female driver along with her four passengers ranging from 4 to 9 years old were uninjured and wearing safety belts at the time of the collision. The driver tested three-times Michigan’s legal alcohol limits; it was also her third drunk driving offense.
‘She (the driver) made every excuse in the book to get out of the conviction,? says Suzanne Erlandson, Brad’s wife of 17 years. ‘Even up until the sentencing she demonstrated no remorse claiming everything from insanity to blacking out at the wheel.?
In 2003 the driver was convicted of driving while intoxicated and causing bodily harm. Oakland Circuit Judge Wendy Potts sentenced her to two-to-five years in prison. She will be eligible for parole in February 2005.
‘We went to every hearing and trial and we even testified at her sentencing,? said Suzanne. ‘We plan on being there, too, for the parole hearing in February.?
Although the driver received the maximum sentence, it’s little consolation for the devastation created in Erlandson’s life.
‘I really don’t remember anything,? said Brad, now 45.
‘I awoke five days later in Beaumont Hospital (Royal Oak) after I heard the voice of my sister saying, ? Brad you were in a bad car accident and you have a broken back.??
Erlandson had suffered a closed- head injury in addition to spinal-cord damage near the thoracic, or upper mid-back, region. To rectify the injury two 12-inch pencil-sized titanium rods were inserted in his back. Despite extensive surgery he remains in a wheelchair and paralyzed from his mid-back to his feet.
‘Doctors didn’t say much at the time’the extent of injury was not explained very well by doctors, or as well as it should have,? said Brad.
‘They weren’t real optimistic that I would walk again, however they didn’t discourage me either.?
After a two-month hospital stay, Brad returned home in July 2002.
While Brad lost the use of his legs he never lost his spirit or his desire to walk again.
Growing up near Syracuse, N.Y., Brad played hockey for West Genesee High School in Cammilus, N.Y. and so it was only natural that his sons Brad Jr.,15, and Paul, 14, became involved with youth hockey. Brad had been a coach for his son’s amateur hockey teams and intends to one day return to the ice.
As a reminder, near his bed are his Nike ice hockey skates. ‘I keep them where I can see them,? said Brad with a smile. ‘To be in a wheelchair and braces is no way to live’I plan on skating once again.?
Brad Jr. earned a spot on the Brandon Blackhawk Varsity Hockey team in the 2003-04 season. And both Brad Jr. and Paul skated in the spring hockey season at Brandon High School.
As he slowly gains physical vigor -his mental strength also continues to grow.
Since the accident, Brad attends therapy five days a week including special time in a therapy swimming pool. He also participates in Project Recovery, an aggressive approach to rehabilitation that emphasizes a full recovery rather than accepting life in a wheelchair.
‘It’s hard for my kids to see me like this–I owe it to them to fight on. I view this (injury) as a test, it’s easy to say you have faith when things are going well, yet when life gets tough faith is tested.?
Having earned a master’s degree from Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va. and a bachelor’s degree from Toccoa Falls College, in Toccoa Falls, Ga., Brad teaches others about faith and ministry at Oakland Christian Church in Oakland Township.
‘I just got to practice what I preach,? smiles Brad. I’ve always worked and supported my family’it’s difficult to stay home when I’ve been going to work everyday.?
Yet the battles continue to be difficult for the Erlandsons.
‘It’s been tough,? said Suzanne. ‘We have mental breakdowns-our life has been altered. If I said it’s been easy I’d be a liar. It’s gotten a lot harder since when Brad first came home from the hospital. First you’re just surviving. Now it’s time to start living again.?