Banners, balloons and signs forming clusters of pastel rainbows covered the walls of the Mount Pleasant Community Center. Packed into the space were dozens of party goers gamely donning headbands outfitted with frilly ears and glitzy horns, all for the sake of keeping with the day’s theme: unicorns.
The mythical creature was on cupcakes, on signs and displayed on the baby of honor’s cake. Never had it seen as much fanfare as it did on the day Addilyn Woodard’s first birthday was celebrated.
No detail was spared for the little Tennessee girl’s latest milestone in a short but significant lifetime full of them.
“She’s a year old and we didn’t think this day would come,” Addilyn’s mother, Terra Woodard, told InsideEdition.com. “But we’re here. God had other plans for her to be here and she is a blessing to us all.”
Addilyn was born on Nov. 9, 2018. She was six weeks early and weighed less than five pounds, but she was healthy and she was loved.
“She started staying with us when she was four days old,” said Terra, who biologically was Addilyn’s great-aunt. “We started getting her and babysitting her and keeping her.”
Addilyn celebrated Christmas with Terra and her family. It was Terra who determined Addilyn was allergic to cow’s milk. And when Addilyn had doctor’s appointments, she was brought by Terra.
“She’d stay with us two or three days, sometimes,” she said. “We’ve had her all weekend.”
“We had her for a week there, one time,” Terra’s husband, Trevor Woodard, added.
“I never said no,” Terra said.
Addilyn was firmly entrenched in the lives of Terra and Trevor, whose love for the little girl was as strong as the affection they held for the children that made up their happy, blended family.
“Me and Terra are not able to have kids, between the two of us,” Trevor said. “So Addilyn was just kind of our blessing in disguise.”
Addilyn’s health and safety was the couple’s first priority, and so when they were asked to take her during a weekend when they themselves were sick, they said they told her biological parents she’d be better off with them.
“So that Sunday, I got a call from my niece that I needed to get to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital ASAP and that it was Addilyn and that they didn’t know if she was going to make it or not,” Terra said.
On Jan. 26, 2018, less than three months after Addilyn was born, she suffered abuse so severe that she was considered to be on the “brink of death,” officials said.
Police said the abuse Addilyn suffered was at the hands of her biological father, Michael Fisher.
He has since been charged with attempted first-degree murder. Addilyn’s biological mother, Brooklyn Tidwell, has since been charged with aggravated child neglect, and has pleaded not guilty.
Their attorneys declined to comment on the case.
Both are awaiting trial.
Immediately following the incident, Terra took steps to gain emergency custody of Addilyn.
She suffered several broken bones, including several broken ribs, as well as bleeding and swelling on the brain. She was unable to breathe on her own and suffered seizures as a result of her brain injuries.
“I never left her side from that day on,” Terra said. “We spent 46 days at Vanderbilt Hospital.”
The prognosis Addilyn was given during her stay at the hospital was not always promising.
“They told her she’d never move on her own,” Trevor said. “She would have to have a [ventilation tube]. [That] she would never show emotion.”
But they were wrong.
Not a moment went by during the 46 days Addilyn spent at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital that she didn’t fight to improve. And her resiliency paid off.
“She started breathing on her own. She opened her eyes. She started moving her arms, her hands, her legs, her feet,” Terra said. “[She] started moving her head around. We got the neck brace off and got the tubes out. … We got to come home March the 13th and we’ve been home ever since.”
Addilyn continued to grow stronger once home with her great-aunt and great-uncle and the family settled into their new normal in making sure the baby got whatever she needed to thrive. Life is not without its challenges, but the Woodards’ resolved to face each head on.
”She has a feeding tube, but … she passed her swallowing test to eat baby food,” Terra said. “So we’re tasting baby food three or four times a day.”
“We have hope that maybe one day her eyesight will come back,” Trevor added.
“She is moving, she is smiling, she is crying, she’s goo-ing and gah-ing, she rides her bicycle as [Trevor] calls it, [where] she moves them legs … she lets you know when she’s hungry. She lets us know what’s going on,” Terra said.
Terra and Addilyn make the trip to Vanderbilt Hospital twice a week for physical therapy and occupational therapy. The pair have become master multitaskers, juggling longstanding appointments with other visits to the doctor, and until September 2019, remaining in constant contact with the Department of Children’s Services.
It was then, six months after bringing her home, that Terra and Trevor made legal what they had felt since the day she was born: Addilyn was theirs.
"We adopted her September the 20th," Terra said, smiling at the thought of the memory. Photos from that day captured the sheer joy on Terra, Trevor and their extended family’s faces, all proud to call Addilyn a Woodard.
"It’s been a tough road and we still have a long way to go, but it’s just something we have to keep moving forward with and taking baby steps,” she said. “She’s a year old and we didn’t think this day would come. But we’re here. God had other plans for he to be here and she is a blessing to us all."
Addilyn’s days are not just filled with trips to the doctor.
She never misses any of her father’s car races and has several crowns to show for her participation in pageants. And there was never even a question about where Addilyn would be when the family went on a trip to the beach and on a cruise.
“She don’t miss anything,” Trevor said. “We take her everywhere.”
“She’s going to live a normal life,” Terra added. “I know there’s going to be hard times and it’s going to be tough, but we’re going to live life to the fullest and she’s going to do everything we do.”
The family is bolstered by a community that cares for Addilyn as if she was their own. When news of Addilyn’s hospitalization broke, in addition to the outpouring of support the Woodards received in the form of cards and letters from the country and world over, they saw an immediate reaction from the people they knew best as well.
“This little community here in Mount Pleasant is amazing,” Terra said. “They have been outstanding. The had a chili supper for her and they sold t-shirts and stickers for her.”
“You can be out in public and … if we’ve got her covered [in a stroller], it’s like ‘Is Addilyn in there?’ and we have to stop and let them see her,” Trevor said with a laugh. “She’s got people that know her everywhere.”
Community support and the family’s interests intersected the night of Addilyn’s birthday at the Southern Fall Brawl Demolition Derby, an event drawing competitors from numerous counties and that benefitted Kid’s Place Child Advocacy Center, Hope Outdoors and the Lion’s Club of Mt. Pleasant Maury County. The organizations all focus on helping children who have survived abuse. That night, Addilyn was recognized for how far she had come and to celebrate her first birthday, the Advocacy Center put together a gift basket she'd get to take home.
“About three years ago God began placing ideas in my head about ways to raise money for Kid’s Place/A Child Advocacy Center,” the event’s organizer, Joe Chapman, wrote on Facebook. “I believe there is absolutely no reason anyone should ever harm a child in any way! The bible says in Psalm 127:3, Children are a heritage from the Lord. … So in saying all of that let’s put into action what the Lord has placed on my heart and have a HUGE event to help raise money for this amazing organization!”
Participating in the derby was Dillon Frazier, Terra and Trevor’s friend who insisted in dedicating his drive to Addilyn. “Addilyn Strong” decals covered the car’s sides and a sign with Addilyn’s photo adorned the vehicle’s top.
“We will be headed there tonight to cheer him on,” Terra said.
Night fell, the Star Spangled Banner played and the derby kicked off. As they would the next day at her birthday party, friends and family passed Addilyn around to each other so that everyone could get to spend time with the little girl. The revving engines and squealing tires from the cars or didn’t faze the baby, whose presence put a smile on every face she came across. She quietly sat through each heat, where drivers deliberately rammed their vehicles into each other, each hoping theirs would be the last one standing.
“See that guy?” Trevor said, pointing to a large, bright orange station wagon that had seen its fair share of destruction well before the night’s events even began. “They’re going to go after him.”
It was a tank of a vehicle and therefore a target. Knock out the largest competitor and you’ll have one less thing to worry about, Trevor explained.
His words appeared prophetic, as the moment they were given the go ahead, every vehicle in the station wagon’s heat went straight for it. It wasn’t long before the once-monstrous vehicle looked more like a crumpled tin can. But still, its driver persisted.
Even as its tires hung on by a thread and smoke billowed from underneath its hood, the station wagon continued to move, its driver seeming to thrive off the crowd’s cheers of encouragement. The cheers turned into cries as the wagon burst into flames, finally unable to take any more damage from the onslaught its competitors were determined to see through.
The crowd held its breath as firefighters rushed to the car and worked putting out the flames, while the driver threw his arms out the window and pulled himself out.
He was alright. The flames hadn’t hit him. And when the crowd realized it, it once again went wild.
“He’ll have that thing up and running again,” Trevor said of the demolished station wagon. His prediction came confidently and was accompanied by a knowing grin. After all, he and his family knew better than anyone the power of resiliency.