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The world's a stage for Valencia man

Local actor gets back in theater after stroke leaves him wheelchair bound

Posted: March 20, 2009 10:54 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Tim Howard, center, pictured with his family Thanksgiving Day 2008, exactly one year after his stroke. He is surrounded by his twin daughters, Jessica, left, and Victoria, and his wife, Mary.

 
Tim Howard, of Valencia, first shared the theater stage with his twin daughters five years ago in a production of The Wizard of Oz.

"He's fun, he's got a great sense of humor," said Mary Howard of her high-school sweetheart and husband.

However on Thanksgiving Day 2007, tragedy struck the family.

Tim Howard unexpectedly suffered a stroke and spent eight months in a hospital for treatment.

After his release, Tim Howard was wheelchair bound with both legs amputated below the knee and no use of his left arm or hand.

And for a year and a half, Mary Howard wasn't sure if she'd ever see her husband perform on stage again with their daughters.

"I had hoped, but I didn't know because of the severity of his disability," Mary Howard said. "I didn't know if it was possible - or if he'd even be interested."

Tonight, Howard returns to the stage with his two twin daughters, Victoria and Jessica, in a theater production of "Alice in Wonderland Jr.," presented by Santa Clarita-based Broadway Bound Players in Burbank.

Jessica will present an opening welcome speech, Victoria will play Tweedle Dee and Tim will play a chef in a brief scene where he will roll onto the stage and sing a song.

"It's a celebration of our family coming together," Mary Howard said. "It's a little return to the beginning of some normalcy."

Tim Howard said it's hard to return to the same stage he performed, "Bye Bye Birdie" on with Victoria before his stroke.

"It's not the same. It's a totally different participation. And what hurts is that remembrance. To go back now and know I can't walk here or there" he said.

Howard, who was an assistant principal at Sepulveda Middle School, added he is grateful for the experience and proud of his daughters.

"I'd say it's a positive experience overall or I wouldn't do it," he said. "It's some return to my old life. I'm awfully grateful to Susan Thomas and Broadway Bound for the opportunity."

The girls, age 9, look forward to a fun evening with their father who is an "awesome" and "great dad," Jessica said.

Victoria said she enjoys performing with her dad because he makes her laugh.

Mary Howard is proud of her girls for staying strong considering the circumstances.

"They have been so brave," she said, as her eyes teared up. "I think it speaks to the father (Tim) is and how much they love him."

Mary and her daughters said the performance has brought the family together, since they are currently living apart from Tim while deciding whether to relocate or make their Valencia home wheelchair accessible, and trying to spend all the time together they can in the meantime.

Mary said the process of preparing for the performance really brought the family closer together and allowed them to spend a lot of quality time together while dealing with her husband's illness.

"It brings some joy to what's been the hardest, most heart-breaking year of my entire life," said Mary Howard. "I think everybody close to us is coming to support Tim and our family. People close to us have really cheered Tim's recovery."

While so much of Tim's physical capabilities have changed, the core of such a remarkable father, husband, friend and neighbor remains intact.

"His disabilities go unnoticed sometimes because of his presence," Mary Howard said.

"We're just really trying to keep life as normal as possible for our girls and ourselves and to heal our hearts," she said. "We're hoping to create our own happy ending if we can."

Mary, who refers to Tim as the "love of her life," believes he survived such a dangerous stroke for a reason.

"Love conquers all and sometimes defies death, if you pray hard enough," she said.

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