08/24/09 — His brother's turn

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His brother's turn

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 24, 2009 1:59 PM

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Victor Thomas, right, talks with language arts teacher Connie Whaley during open house at Greenwood Middle School Wednesday evening.

Carson and Victor Thomas have always been the best of friends, perhaps because they were part of a military family and came to rely on one another.

They are in many ways typical siblings -- taking turns teasing and roughhousing, younger brother looking up to the older brother.

That did not change when Carson was struck by a car in the crosswalk in front of Greenwood Middle School on Nov. 18, 2005. He was then an eighth-grader.

Now, four years later, Victor, 13, is starting eighth grade at the same school.

"We're always conscious of it," said dad Doug Thomas, who recently retired from the Air Force. "But whenever school starts, I try to get the word out to be careful, not just over at Greenwood, but at all the schools."

It was a life-changing moment for the family, one Doug Thomas hopes to prevent for others.

Carson, now 17, was hospitalized in Pitt Memorial in Greenville after the accident and later spent months in rehab. As recently as last year, he had surgery to straighten out his leg.

For a time, he returned to school, first at Greenwood, then Eastern Wayne High School. Since the latest surgery, he has received homebound services.

"He's doing great," mom Heather said. "He's still making progress."

In addition to academic help, a speech therapist works with him, even teaching him French.

"French sounds are less hard," his mother said. "We are also encouraging him to say words. Sometimes he'll give us the first letter."

"He used to write notes but it was hard to keep reaching for the clipboard," Doug said. "All of us learned finger spelling."

Carson's mind is sharp, and he has a good memory, his family says. Short-term memory was affected most, Heather said, but his long-term memory is "pretty clear."

"Things will pop up where he'll remember things so clear, like Pi to the eighth place," she said.

He goes through stages, but one staple remains -- the bond shared between brothers.

"It's been difficult, but it hasn't really been difficult in dealing with Carson," Victor said. "It's more been difficult getting to play as much as he used to. We are mostly able to play video games together."

The brothers have their own private jokes and ways of communicating. Carson enjoys copying Victor, for example.

"Sometimes he mimics me to get me frustrated," Victor said.

That's his job, Mrs. Thomas reminds her youngest.

"He's your older brother," she said. "And Victor's annoying; he's the younger brother."

As if on cue, Carson, positioned nearby in his wheelchair, sits upright and signs a message to "stay straight," chastising Victor for his posture on the couch.

Victor doesn't even flinch. By his way of thinking, it's no different than any other sibling relationship.

He is just glad his brother is still around.

"I remember the day," he said. "I was eating waffles when Mom got the call and stuff. Then I remember that I had thought that Carson had only just like bumped his head or something. Then when I got there, I remember Carson's friend Mack (Wessels, also struck but receiving lesser injuries) being relatively conscious but Carson wasn't."

In critical care at Pitt, the prognosis appeared grim. And while Carson survived and has made great strides, some things are clearly not the same.

"I feel I was almost gypped out of a brother in that situation," Victor said. "We can't play football. Most of the ways I cope with it involve playing video games. I also cope by doing something that he wants to do like playing board games or cards."

One thing he doesn't do is feel sorry for himself or consider himself overshadowed by what happened. In fact, the family has tried not to dwell there.

"I never really had to consciously talk to Victor in that way," Mrs. Thomas said. "Most of the conversations we have had have been about the circumstances and what we needed to pray for. I don't think I had to say anything like, 'We have to tough this out.' We just did. I don't think we had time to think about it."

They were fortunate that Pitt had a child life program, providing college students to keep siblings occupied during the hospitalization.

"They would take Victor and play board games, distract him," Mrs. Thomas said. "They were counselors, too, but did it through playing. Hospitals are really starting to think about the whole family."

The Thomases have tried to maintain a sense of normalcy, despite circumstances that were far from normal. And while Victor readies for the school year that became a turning point for their eldest son, his parents say they are driving him to school, but only because they live out of the district.

"To me, they're not being overprotective," Victor said, although at times he gets teased by classmates because his family doesn't have cable, and he doesn't watch some of the TV shows they do.

"We're still treating him like we always did," his mother said. "I consciously try not to be too overprotective. My family wants us to send him to Texas by himself. I couldn't do it. But we have sent him on a campout by himself, trying to let him spread his wings."

"How does he have wings?" Carson asks.

He is literal that way, his mother says with a smile.

The start of a new school year also holds a bittersweet tinge, as it would have been Carson's senior year in high school.

"So (his classmates) are all starting seniors this year and that's exciting for his classmates," Mrs. Thomas said. "We run into them more than anything, sometimes he hears from some on the Internet. I just figure they're busy."

As a family, they are self-professed "homebodies" but still try to do things together. They enjoy watching movies and Victor recently performed in the play "Jack and the Beanstalk." Beyond that, it's mostly Scouts and church, said Doug, scoutmaster of Troop 299.

Scouting is just another example of common experiences the brothers have shared.

Carson is currently working on his Eagle project, something his mom says has yet to be decided.

"We're trying to think of something he can lead," she said. "The good thing is he doesn't have to do all the work, he can supervise."

Victor is a Star Scout, he said, "just like Carson was before the accident. It's another similarity but I have different merit badges and stuff. I have pretty much followed him when it comes to certain things."

Like school. He had some of his brother's former teachers at Greenwood last year, and was often called by his brother's name.

But he doesn't seem to mind the comparison. If anything, he prides himself on being like his brother.

"I would like to have some of Carson's wisdom on things," he said. "He knows a lot about pretty much everything, except maybe the ancient language of the ants."

The dry sense of humor is shared, their mother points out. And the two definitely "speak the same language in video games" and the like.

"They were always their own best friends, moreso than other friends because we moved around with the military," she said. "I think they just like each other, except when they don't like each other."

"Victor's been a big help," Doug aded. "Keeping Carson calm at times, keeping him entertained, different things. He's been a big help getting him in and out of the car and all of these other things. He's just a great kid to step up to the challenges."