11/19/06 — Thomas family keeping their faith, heart

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Thomas family keeping their faith, heart

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 19, 2006 2:01 AM

Doug Thomas doesn't drive past the Ash Street crosswalk in front of Greenwood Middle School today without thinking about how other people drive -- too fast.

It was there, a year ago, that his son, Carson, was hit as he crossed the street with his friend, Mackenzie Wessels.

"Every day, I see people speeding and trying to beat the light -- everywhere, not just there," Doug said. "But it bothers me because I'm afraid somebody else is going to get hurt."

Doug said he will never forget the day when he got the news that would change his family forever -- getting the call that his son had been involved in an accident, making the trip to Greenville with his wife, Heather, the months waiting and hoping for a good prognosis for their son.

The eighth-graders were initially taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital. Mackenzie's hospital stay was brief, while Carson was quickly transferred to Pitt Memorial Hospital, where he spent months rehabilitating.

The Thomases made it through the pain, he said, with the help of family and friends.

"That was one of the amazing things about the accident. People on the base, they would tell people back home. The thing just kind of expanded," Doug said. "We were hearing from people we didn't even know saying that they were praying for him. I got e-mails from Afghanistan. They were in harm's way, and they were sending us support from there."

Doug said he is used to needing to count on people who are a different sort of "family." That is how it is in the military. Support, he said, is as appreciated from a distance as it is from right next door.

"I don't like being in this situation but I would really feel sorry for someone who didn't have all the support, whose family wasn't as tight, things like that," he said. "I can't imagine someone having to go through that."

Remembering Nov. 18, 2005, wasn't as hard as he thought it would be, Doug added

Carson is doing well.

"Every day has been a little bit of progress and some days are more than others," he said.

One benchmark came a couple months ago, Doug said, as Carson prepared to go to Greenville for some rehab services.

"The week before we went there, he wrote his name, so they're working with him on writing things," he said. "That was probably the best thing we have seen."

Therapists have also had Carson using a platform walker, enabling him to walk about 50 feet with a lot of help.

More important than the physical successes are the moments when Carson is ... Carson, his father said.

"He seems to be pretty happy. He laughs a lot," Doug said. "You can see his personality come through. He likes to mess with people. You can tell when he's bored because he kind of bangs on his bed or whatever. For the most part, he seems real happy and is working hard."

Carson still cannot speak. Doug said they are learning different ways to listen.

"He can't really tell (us) what's wrong, if he's tired or whatever. We can ask him questions, he can shake his head or nod," he said.

Sometimes the movements can be confusing, requiring them to pay closer attention.

"A lot of his hand gestures are the same thing, and we might, if we're not paying attention, think that he's doing it for the same reason," Doug said. "But then once we figure it out, it's like, 'OK, you're saying that.'

Adjusting to their son's new requirements has not been easy, especially for his mother. Heather takes care of most of Carson's physical needs, Doug said.

They remember, Doug said, that the young man they knew before the accident is still there. And when Carson shines through his injuries, that is what keeps his family going through the months of recovery.

"One of the things that really affected me the hardest was that Carson is such a smart kid and the injury is all in his brain. To see his personality and intelligence come through, it's kind of a relief," he said. "The first weekend in rehab in Greenville, they were asking him questions and he would get tired of it and answer wrong, I guess on purpose, and then laugh. He was always a character like that."

Carson might not be able to tell his mother, father and little brother, Victor, that he loves them, but that doesn't mean he doesn't make sure they know, Doug said.

"He hits his chest and points at us," he said.

And he understands, too, what he hears.

At a recent service at the base chapel, Carson listened intently to the pastor's message.

"Every time the preacher would say, 'heart,' (Carson) would point to his chest and every time he would say 'God,' (Carson) would point in the air," Doug said.

Carson also likes to play. His right side works well and he still seems to enjoy throwing a ball. When the family attended the base chapel's fall festival in October, Carson was able to participate in some of the games there.

He also is quite adept at "thumb wars," his father noted.

"I don't remember him doing it before as much but now he seems to be a professional at it," Doug said.

There is no doubt that Carson is interested in getting better, his father said.

"He's a 14-year-old kid. He's pretty stubborn," Thomas said.

So are his mother and father.

When they heard about a facility in Florida that only works with patients who have physical damage to the brain and learned that it also takes kids, the couple flew down earlier this month to investigate.

"It seemed like it could work," Doug said of the Florida Institute for Neurologic Rehabilitation.

Heather and Carson have since returned to the institute and expect to be there for at least two months -- longer if things go well.

"Some people in Greenville were just amazed that we were even considering Florida, but it's a nice facility down there," Doug said.

And for parents determined to support their son, a chance at more progress is just not something to pass up.

"For us, giving up is not an option. It doesn't matter where it is, we'll do what it takes to get him better," Doug said. "All along, we have just been trying to do our best to make sure Carson gets what he needs."

The separation has been hard, he said, but not unfamiliar -- another trade-off for a military family.

"We've been in this situation before. I've been deployed, so now it's just Heather being deployed," he said.

Heather agreed. They are sacrificing, she said, for Carson.

"We are hanging in there. The facility seems to be good for him," she said. "He seems to be making progress every day, and we don't want that to slow up at all."

But even so, she will not be there when Victor, a fifth-grader at Greenwood, takes the stage for his role in "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" this weekend.

She will watch Victor's debut, with Carson, on video later.

Since that first moment in the intensive care unit when doctors told the Thomases about their son's future, they have moved forward with hope and determination.

Doug said one doctor told the family the biggest thing Carson had going for him was his youth, explaining "that he can bounce back but at any time he could just level off and that's what we're stuck with."

But Doug said the family does not think about limits -- only possibilities.

After all, they know their son.

"He's already done so well that he's kind of proving them wrong," Doug said. "That's part of his personality, too, is his stubbornness. He likes to prove people wrong."

So, they watch, work hard and celebrate every victory.

"We'll take what we can get," Doug said.

And they think about what could happen to any family, anywhere.

"You just never know. It could happen to anybody and not just the victim. It could happen to anybody driving, that you'll be in that situation," Doug said.

And for those who want to continue to support the family and Carson, Doug asked that they "throw spare change in for the Ronald McDonald House," referring to the family's accommodation's during the many months in Greenville.

Doug would like to see something else, too, when he passes cars along the road.

"Drive safer. That's what means more to us right now," he said.

Knowing that their friends and family are still there is also a blessing, Heather added.

"Keep praying for us and thinking about us," she said. "We miss being in Goldsboro."