Brusly native recovering from October attack in Brazil

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -  Renee Murdoch, a pastor in Brazil and a Brusly native, visits her mother's home after recovering from being severely beaten by a homeless man in Rio de Janiero in late October.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK - Renee Murdoch, a pastor in Brazil and a Brusly native, visits her mother's home after recovering from being severely beaten by a homeless man in Rio de Janiero in late October.

Renee Murdoch doesn’t believe she’s exaggerating by saying she’s lucky to be able to walk and talk these days.

The Brusly native and Rio de Janiero, Brazil, resident, is just months removed from a savage beating that left her in a coma for several weeks and had doctors saying she had little hope for survival.

Now, three months after her month-long stay in a hospital, Murdoch said she’s nearly normal again.

“My brain is still healing,” Murdoch said Friday afternoon from the living room of her mother’s home, where she was visiting for the first time since the attack in late October, “but I would say I’m about 85 percent healed and my day-to-day is pretty normal.”

Murdoch, 44, was the victim of what her husband, Philip, described as a “wild, random act of violence” when a homeless man wielded a fence post and beat Murdoch repeatedly while she was walking along Rio’s Barra beach. The beating left her with massive skull fractures, which led to emergency surgery and a medically-induced coma.

She has no memory of the attack, she said, though her husband, whom she met while the two were students at LSU in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has helped reconstruct the events. She isn’t fully healthy, as she hasn’t started driving again and still attends weekly rehabilitation sessions.

When she awoke from her coma, Murdoch said the left side of her body wasn’t functioning. She described the feeling as similar to that of a stroke victim and believes she might have had one because of the large amount of blood lost during the attack. In addition, Murdoch said, her eyes weren’t functioning properly and she couldn’t see straight.

The function of her left side has returned thanks to the rehab, where she’s relearned to walk and talk, and Renee Murdoch said one morning she woke up and could see again.

“Just one morning I woke up and (my eyes) were all better,” she said.

“I was at their house in Brazil when she told me, ‘Mom, I can see,’ ” said her mother, Mary Sarrodet. “We just cried and loved one another.”

A pastor, Murdoch and her husband run churches in Rio and NiterĂ³i, a neighboring city. Her faith has played a large role in her recovery, and she said it’s a “real miracle” that’s she come so far so quickly.

“I have a great drive in me to get better, but basically we had people around the world praying for me,” Renee Murdoch said. “I just can’t help but believe that God has responded to that.”

Her husband, whom she married in 1994, also was fundamental in her recovery, she said. Philip Murdoch stayed by her side nearly 24 hours per day, she said, and he rallied and motivated people with specific prayer requests for her recovery.

Sarrodet used the words “amazing” and “remarkable” to describe the progress her daughter has made, and there’s no doubt in her mind the recovery has been miraculous.

“I believe in miracles, too,” she said. “I pray for miracles, and this was a miracle. She’s been loved by a lot of people, and she had prayers from all over the world.”

Sarrodet said she was happy to see her daughter on Friday, though saddened that her stay in West Baton Rouge Parish was so short. Murdoch planned to leave Saturday to travel to Tennessee to visit more friends and family before going to Florida and returning to Rio on Wednesday.

She said she wished her daughter, who has lived in Brazil for 13 years, would move closer to home.

“It doesn’t have to be Brusly, but somewhere in the states,” she said.

That’s unlikely to happen, however. Renee Murdoch said she loves life in Rio, and though she “may be more careful” in the future, she doesn’t feel in danger in her adopted home.

She has returned to the site of her beating, where she said “the seriousness of what happened” weighed on her. But it didn’t persuade her from returning again. In fact, that’s one of the goals of her recovery.

“My desire is to go back walking on the beach again,” she said. “It’s my dream to go walking and running on that beach.”