In the aftermath of a violent attack that left her paralyzed from the neck down, a Santa Clarita YouTuber reflected on her healing journey and her efforts to maintain the emotional drive needed to keep herself motivated as she fought to regain her ability to move despite doctors’ expectations.
Before she launched her channel “Cooking With Bird” on the video-sharing platform, Erika “Bird” Martinez, a resident of Newhall, first started cooking to care for her children. Although her first attempts were less than successful, she stuck through the rough learning curve.
“I started cooking with just two eggs, and I burnt them, I burnt my hair, I made a mess. So I went to YouTube because I didn’t want to learn from my mother-in-law and I didn’t want to learn from my mom,” Martinez said.
Martinez credited cooking with helping her get through bouts of depression that she experienced as a stay-at-home mom, a recurring battle for her mental health that she has faced off against as a post-partum mother, and now during her recovery from a life-changing injury.
Martinez and her husband had just returned from a meet and greet with her followers in Arizona and Texas, sharing cooking tips and delivering orders of homemade salsa, when she fell victim to an attack that has changed the lives of her and her family irrevocably.
Early on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, Martinez and her family were at home watching television together, when she heard what she thought was someone rattling silverware in the kitchen, and saw her husband’s brother, Guadalupe Albarran, appearing upset.
Diagnosed with Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, Albarran had faced issues in the past due to violent outbursts, a difficult mental health condition to manage in the best of situations. However, Martinez noted that his mood became even more unstable when he started using crystal meth.
Albarran had attacked Martinez in a previous incident in January 2020, during which he had attempted to choke her due to an argument about use of the family vehicle, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department reports at the time.
“Responding deputies upon arrival were told that there was a verbal argument that occurred between the suspect and the victim over the use of a family car,” said Shirley Miller, a former spokesperson for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station at the time of the attack.
According to Martinez, Albarran was arrested and sentenced to two years, but was released later that same year due to COVID-19 protocols calling for a reduction in the inmate population in Los Angeles County.
“That night he was like an angry kid passing by… then he went in front of me, looked at me, like, just stared at me. And I was like, ‘what,’” Martinez said. “I never saw the knife.”
Albarran stabbed Martinez in the neck, damaging her spine and causing her to lose feeling from the neck down.
“He stabbed me once… but then he went in deeper… and my whole body just, I don’t know how to explain, it evaporated,” Martinez said. “I didn’t feel nothing… I was like ‘get up, get up,’ and I couldn’t get up…The thing that scared me the most was I heard my kids saying ‘Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.’”
Martinez’s oldest daughter ran to call 9-1-1, while her middle daughter began filming to preserve evidence – a fact that would become integral to the investigation, as, according to Martinez, her mother-in-law tried to clean up blood on the floor around her prone body and requested that there be no call for law enforcement to prevent her son from being sent to jail.
“Meanwhile, I’m dying… She knows what she did and I’m never going to forget it,” Martinez promised.
As Martinez struggled to live, her husband, Marioh, attempted to stop his brother, and in the process sustained seven stab wounds that included a near-severed ear and a punctured lung. Albarran also threatened Martinez’s oldest daughter with a knife as he fled the scene, stopped only by his father’s intervention.
The entire time, Martinez’s 5-year-old son stayed at her side.
“My son was like ‘breathe mommy, breathe,’ and he ran into the (other) room, got a band-aid and put it on my neck… my son said ‘breathe,’” Martinez said. “I heard a little voice, and it was far away, but I heard it, and I was like, ‘I have to breathe.’”
Martinez later awoke in Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, the same hospital she had been born in, to a new life. The damage caused in the attack left her a quadriplegic, with little expectation of recovery according to doctors.
But that didn’t stop Martinez, who immediately decided that no matter what, she wouldn’t resign herself to a life spent nearly completely paralyzed from the neck down.
“I’ve accepted that I’m gonna be different, but I didn’t accept the diagnosis, because that’s not what I am, I’m way more than that,” Martinez said. “It took a lot of therapy and a lot of work to be where I am. And it took letting go of the past and (going) ‘okay, let’s do this, let’s focus on myself’ to get better.”
Today, after months of therapy and a healthy dose of luck, Martinez is able to breathe, walk with assistance, and even cook on her own. She is still entirely numb on the left side of her body, but considering the fact that medical experts once thought she would never be able to move even one of her limbs, her recovery is a miracle, Martinez said.
On Sept. 29, 2021, Albarran was sentenced to life plus six years in prison for the attack on Martinez and her family, according to the Los Angeles County division of the California Superior Court.
‘I don’t think he regrets what he did, because he’s blaming it all on his mental health issues, but we all have mental health issues,” Martinez said of her brother-in-law.
Martinez thanked her followers, many of whom organized funds or even the delivery of meals to her home to help care for her husband and children during her recovery process.
“They don’t really know me, but they took time off their day to do that for my family, I always appreciate them and the prayers and all that,” Martinez said. “All that helps, even if it’s a little thought or some food.”
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