04/08/07 — Carson Thomas takes his next step toward recovery

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Carson Thomas takes his next step toward recovery

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 8, 2007 2:02 AM

Nearly 18 months after being struck by a vehicle while crossing the street outside Greenwood Middle School, Carson Thomas is back in school.

A lot has happened since the November 2005 accident that sent him and eighth-grade classmate Mackenzie Wessels to the hospital. Carson's injuries were more severe, requiring months of intensive therapy -- most recently a four-month stint in a Florida facility for children with brain injuries.

Carson's main injury was a blood clot in his brain stem, explained his mother, Heather Thomas. That typically affects breathing, eating and walking on one's own.

"It's God's miracle that he's breathing, eating and walking, somewhat," she said, quickly pointing out that "I have no doubt he will be walking again."

Progress has been encouraging. In some areas he has made great strides, but also struggles with tasks he had no problem with before the accident, she said.

"He's still not talking but writes incredibly well, neat and on lined paper," she said. "You can tell there's been damage, but he can spell words that he would be expected to know in eighth grade."

Walking is another matter. Physical therapists come to the Thomas home three times a week. Her son is reliant on a wheelchair, she said, but can walk with assistance.

"He has always been very verbal," his mother said. "He's a writer at heart, and he's exhibiting that now, which is wonderful."

Writing is his primary means of communication. He is also learning American sign language, but when he can't remember the sign for something, his mother says, he will write it in the air.

"He's best on paper and he's writing many stories," she said, noting that he's also drawing comics. "Kids will love that because he was always drawing comics in school when he was supposed to be doing his schoolwork."

A speech therapist is working with Carson, but for now, the two phrases he utters are priceless to his parents.

"He can say, 'Hi, Mom' and, clear enough for us, 'I love you,'" she said. "We know what he means and he knows what he means."

The latter was especially wonderful, Mrs. Thomas said.

"He first said it to (father) Doug on the phone. (Carson's younger brother) Victor got Carson to tell dad, 'I love you,'" she said.

Ten-year-old Victor has handled the aftermath of his brother's accident marvelously, his mother said. The two enjoy thumb-wrestling, playing checkers and video games together, and the younger sibling has at times taken on the caretaker role.

"We're very proud of him," she says of the fifth-grader. "He was always caring and sensitive. As much as I have this curiosity about what's going to become of Carson in the future, I'm also curious about how this is going to mold Victor's life. I believe it will shape it positively."

After being away from her husband and younger son since November, Mrs. Thomas and Carson returned home March 9. Carson's classroom experience in Florida prompted the family to consider his return to school.

Initially, his parents drove out to the high school where Carson's former classmates now attend but the drive proved too much and the Thomases felt another option might be better. On a whim, they drove to Greenwood to check out the possibility of him returning there.

"They didn't know we were coming," Mrs. Thomas recalls. When they entered the school, though, "eight people immediately came up and Victor happened to be eating lunch, and (he) got excited we were at his school."

Principal Larry Dean was on hand and several of Carson's former teachers were also exuberant about his arrival, she said.

The warm welcome bolstered the decision.

"Mr. Dean has been wonderful. They have set Carson up with a caregiver and she's wonderful," she said. "Everybody has been great. They seem excited to have him there."

Of course, there was one consideration the Thomases weighed before making the final decision.

"We talked to Victor about whether he would be OK with that because I knew Carson would walk in as a 'star,'" Mrs. Thomas said. "But Victor said he would be real proud to have Carson come to Greenwood with him."

It has been a good match and a fitting way to resume his education, Mrs. Thomas said.

"Carson's only been to Greenwood. We moved here when he was in fifth grade," she said.

Monday was his first day back as a student.

"He was so pleased to be there," his mother said. "He showed up, answered math questions before the teacher could finish her sentences."

In the exceptional children program, there is less categorization by grade and more by capability, she explained. That has been helpful in easing the pressure and transition for her son at this point.

"Wayne County Public Schools has really supported him," she said. The school has also encouraged Carson to sit in on some of the regular eighth-grade classes. One of them is taught by Connie Whaley, this year's Wayne County Teacher of the Year and one of Carson's teachers before the accident.

"He is able to sit in on her classes and he enjoys that a lot, you can tell," Mrs. Thomas said. "He has gaps in thinking that he would have known (before) and yet he excels and understands such high levels of information."

There is a ways to go, though, and while he is adjusting well to being back at school, he can still get frustrated, Mrs. Thomas said.

"He has some pain and you can tell he's in pain at times, especially his left hand, left arm and left leg," she said. "He doesn't really get frustrated with anything else, but he does get frustrated with the physicality."

At this point, she says, nothing is impossible. The family's faith has taught them that.

"The prayers keep our family going and prayers are the heart of Carson's progress," she said.

On Friday, Carson will turn 15. With husband Doug recuperating from an April 2 back surgery, it will be very much an at-home celebration for the family, Mrs. Thomas said.

And even though Carson is only eating pureed foods and thickened liquids at this point, an exception will be made on his birthday.

"He's already told me what kind of cake he wants," she said with a smile.