For assistant principal Brenda Slaby, August 23, 2007 was supposed to be routine and uneventful, just like any other first day back at school for teachers. But from the moment her day started at 5:30 that morning, Brenda's normal routine was thrown off. Her husband, Gary, who typically handled the preschool and daycare drop-offs for their two daughters, had a dentist appointment and needed Brenda to take care of their youngest, 2-year-old Cecilia.
Brenda rushed out the door with her daughter and was on the road by 6:00 a.m. It was too early to drop Cecilia at daycare, so Brenda ran a quick errand to pick up doughnuts for the teachers. She drove straight to school and dropped the doughnuts in the chorus room. "I rushed in, and the rest of the day was just a typical first day back for teachers," Brenda recalls.
Except, it wasn't a typical day at all. Late that summer afternoon, as temperatures reached 100 degrees, a teacher was walking to her own car when she happened to glance inside Brenda's. In the back seat was Cecilia.
The teacher immediately alerted Brenda, who sprinted out to the parking lot. "I grabbed Cecilia out of the car. I knew she was gone. As soon as I picked her up, I knew," Brenda says, crying. "I prayed harder than I've ever prayed in my life. But I knew she was gone."
Brenda shared her painful story as a wake-up call to other parents on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2008, supported by her husband Gary. Though Brenda referred to herself as "the most hated mom in America," Gary never blamed her for their daughter's death. Brenda couldn't view herself the same way.
"There's nothing compared to being that mother who spent their life trying to protect their kids from all these evil things in the world, and not being able to protect my daughter from myself," she said tearfully back then.
It's now been seven years since Brenda's fatal mistake, and "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" checked in with her to see how she's been doing since the tragedy.
"Life today is very different than it was seven years ago," Brenda says in the above video.
She is no longer with Gary -- "It was not due to Cecilia's death," Brenda says -- and focuses her time on her older daughter Allison, who she credits with helping her find the motivation to rebuild her life.
"She's the reason I got up every day. She's the reason I've done everything that I've done in the last seven years," Brenda says.
One of those things the grieving mother has done is refocus her career. Brenda was unable to return to the school system as an assistant principal, so she decided to further her own education and become a speech pathologist. Though it was difficult finding a school to hire her, Brenda eventually found the ideal fit.
"Through a lot of calls and a lot of other processes, we found a wonderful school in a wonderful district that was willing to take me in, to allow me to do my student-teaching," she says. "They ultimately hired me."
In a way, Brenda believes her new professional path connects her to her late daughter. "I'm working with a lot of severely disabled children -- nonverbal, autistic. I feel like, sometimes, that's the way Cecilia is working through me. That this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life," Brenda says.
Her career is back on track, but Brenda admits that she still struggles with her self-esteem as a parent.
"I no longer feel like one of the most hated moms in America," she says. "But... there's always... in the back of my head that I allowed this to happen to Cecilia. So, I think I doubt a lot of things I do as a mom. It's very hard."