Back from the Brink

When a car crash derailed Brenda Seats’ career at TMMI, she vowed to fight back and return to the job she loved

March 12, 2019
She's a Fighter --  When a car crash derailed Brenda Seats' career at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, she had to leave a job she loved. Seats vowed to return to TMMI, no matter the physical and mental obstacles in her way.

Brenda Seats never planned to leave her job at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana.

She enjoyed the work and the life it provided for her family. She loved her team. And she was proud to work for Toyota. But in 2008, her plans changed.

Seats had just dropped her daughter off at school. She was driving her Tacoma home when another driver crashed head-on into her truck.

“At the moment of impact, I remember thinking ‘oh no,’” Seats says. “At first, I didn’t think I was hurt that bad. But when I tried to move, I realized my leg didn’t feel right.”

Seats recalls riding in an ambulance to the hospital. She overheard EMTs talking about her injured leg. She heard them using the word “amputation.”

“Of course, I was terrified,” Seats says. “But I had no idea what I was in for.”

Seats had a badly broken leg and a compound fracture near her ankle. Luckily, doctors didn’t have to amputate, but they placed a network of metal hardware throughout her leg and ankle. Seats spent a week in the hospital and faced a grueling recovery at home. 

“Doctors told me all the things I’d never do again,” Seats says. “I’d never walk right. That I wouldn’t be able to stand or bear weight on that leg. It was physically overwhelming and emotionally devastating.”

The doctors were right. Seats had constant nerve pain. She couldn’t walk. And she definitely couldn’t work. She made the difficult decision to leave TMMI in 2009.

“I was so upset,” Seats says. “This was personal. I started working at Toyota when I was in a previous marriage. Toyota represented my independence. When I got divorced, I could take care of my kids because Toyota was there.”

Seats spent three years focused on her recovery. Bit by bit, she started getting out of the house and back into a routine – coaching the swim team at the local high school or helping her daughter tour college campuses. She was still dealing with excruciating leg pain and decided to seek other medical opinions.

“I realized people with prosthetics were doing better than I was,” Seats says. “I had finally had enough, and I was ready to have my foot amputated.”

That wasn’t necessary. Seats found new doctors who removed all the hardware from her leg and started her on a new treatment plan. With each month, she grew stronger and more confident.

In 2015 – mostly pain-free and out of her wheelchair – Seats set one more goal: getting back to work at TMMI.

“This was the ultimate goal,” Seats says. “My job had meant so much to me. It was the missing piece. And I wasn’t going to rest until I was back.”

Seats applied. She was nervous about making it through the plant’s thorough physical fitness examinations. But she passed. Seats was re-hired and placed in the press shop, where she serves as a production team leader.  

“It felt so amazing to return to work,” Seats says. “My family was proud of me. I truly felt like I faced the impossible. But I learned there’s always a way to start your impossible. You just can’t quit. Never give up.”

Seats is approaching a decade of total service with Toyota. And she says she’s not going anywhere.

“I’m home again. This is family. Thank you, Toyota.”

By Kristen Orsborn

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