MERCEDES — Brenda Garcia knew the doctors were going to cut off her leg before they told her so.

Eric Cantu Jr. (8) and his sister Daylvan Cantu (8) look out of window of their home their home Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

She knew before she got to the hospital, and before she was on her way there.

She knew almost as soon as the wheels stopped spinning.

Garcia was already bracing herself for the amputation in the wreckage of the car crash. She’d hit a car with its lights out on FM 491 in Mercedes, just down the road from the mobile home she lives in with her four children.

She thanks God they weren’t in the car that evening.

Garcia remembers being in the wreck and feeling her leg, cold to the touch. It was changing colors, slowly turning black.

“Are you guys going to cut it?” she asked at the hospital.

“Why do you say that?” the hospital staff replied.

“Cause I know you guys are,” Garcia said.

She was right.

Now just 27 years old, Garcia lost most of her left leg and that trip to her friend’s house has defined her life ever since.

“I was young, and I never thought this was going to happen to me,” she said. “It changed my life completely.”

Garcia spent the next at the hospital for a month in Harlingen. She spent the next two years on crutches or in a wheelchair.

Work was out of the question. She’d worked before, selling children’s clothes at the outlet mall.

After the wreck she was stuck at home — and home, a mobile home, is in rough shape.

Brenda Garcia’s prosthetic leg is shown at the Garcia family in their home Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

It’s hot in the summertime and cold in the wintertime. The linoleum floors are patched and peeling. There’s a leak in the corner of the kitchen, over the stove, and the walls are brown and yellow from the rainwater.

There’s a Christmas tree in the living room this year, but not enough money to put many presents under it.

Garcia is a single mother. Her mother has tried to help keep the family afloat, but it’s a big burden.

“It’s too much money for four kids,” Garcia said.

Garcia couldn’t play either. Her children love soccer and football, and she’d play with them, jumping on the trampoline and going for bike rides and taking her son fishing.

Angelic Ramos (4) plays on the couch at the Garcia family in their home Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The wreck sidelined her.

“I couldn’t do things that my kids wanted me to do,” she said.

All Garcia could do was sit around and lament the loss of her leg. Her legs were always her favorite thing about her, her best asset. The thing she was proudest of.

“I didn’t like nothing else about me, only my legs,” she said.

The wreck took that pride away, like it took most everything else away.

Garcia fell into a depression. Twice she thought about killing herself.

She still struggles with that depression, but she’s found something to cling onto.

The kids weren’t in the car that night, and that’s the one blessing Garcia has been able to hold onto. She told herself that one day, in the depths of her depression.

“I have kids, I need to think about my kids, so I let everything go. But I still have depression and everything. I still feel bad, though, because I lost my leg,” she said. “I’m still here with my kids, that’s the only thing that matters now. I have my kids, and I’m still here because of my kids.”

Two weeks ago Garcia told those kids that she had a doctor’s appointment and that she’d come back walking.

“What? What do you mean walking?” they asked.

“Yes, I mean walking,” she told them.

A wheel chair rests in front of the Garcia family in their home Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Mercedes. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Garcia did come back walking, on a new prosthetic leg that she’s been trying to get practically since she got out of the hospital.

It’s not perfect — Garcia still limps, but she’s been practicing walking up and down the street, and she should be more sure-footed when physical therapy starts.

To Garcia, that plastic leg has been the first move toward accepting herself.

“I don’t see nobody here,” she said. “For me, this changed my life, because I didn’t see people with prosthetics; now I do see people with prosthetics. I didn’t know nothing about this, but now that I have my prosthetic I know people that have prosthetics, and that makes me happy because now I see people with it and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not different.’ And before I thought I was different.”

The prosthetic has also been the first move toward rebuilding her life in a physical sense.

“That’s why I’m trying to walk faster, so I can go faster, so I can go work,” she said. “So I can do it by myself, so I won’t be asking my mom no more.”

The kids are almost as excited about the prosthetic as Garcia is.

Not long after she got it, one of her sons asked if she’d go biking with him.

“I told him, ‘Not yet,’” Garcia said. “But I will.”

To donate to Garcia’s family, and other families, call the United Way of South Texas at (956) 686-6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and inquire about contributing to the Spirit of Christmas campaign. Due to COVID-19, only monetary donations are being accepted for families in need.