10/18/10 — Eagle Scout beats the odds after suffering brain injury

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Eagle Scout beats the odds after suffering brain injury

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 18, 2010 1:46 PM

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Carson Thomas, left, recites the Scout Law during a National Court of Honor ceremony to receive his Eagle Scout ranking. At right is his father, Doug Thomas. Carson, 18, was seriously injured after being struck by a car in front of Greenwood Middle School in November 2005.

A brace on his left arm, a walking cane in his right hand, Carson Thomas rose from his wheelchair to walk the final steps down the aisle at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Chapel on Saturday to participate in his Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

It had been his dream since he joined Cub Scout Pack 18 in Misawa, Japan, in 1998.

"My dad was in Scouting, but he didn't make it to Eagle and he has always told me how much he regretted that," Carson said during the ceremony.

The Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the program, and only 2 percent of boys in Scouting make it to that level, said John Albaugh, who served as master of ceremonies.

Early on, Carson's journey to be among the elite seemed to be right on track, with 2005 proving to be an especially significant year for him.

He had completed 10 of the merit badges required for Eagle Scout and that year earned his First Class Scout rank, was appointed patrol leader, completed Junior Leader Training and then went to the National Scout Jamboree in Virginia over the summer.

Then on a November morning, while crossing the street with two of his eighth-grade classmates in front of Greenwood Middle School, everything changed when he was struck by a driver who failed to stop for the traffic light.

"Carson received a severe traumatic brain injury that put him into a month-long coma," Albaugh told the audience. "The brain injury left him unable to use his left arm, unable to walk, unable to see straight and unable to talk. It took him 10 months to be able to write his name."

He made the leap from writing to learning sign language to communicate, and still attempts to speak.

While some tasks proved monumental to master, Carson worked diligently to return to the one thing he loved most -- Scouting.

In 2007, two years after the accident that sidelined him, Carson began to make his way back in that arena, too.

"He served as the troop's chaplain aide by writing out prayers for others to read aloud, he completed community service by ringing bells for the Salvation Army (and) he was able to earn his Life Scout rank," Albaugh said.

As a Scout with special needs, he could have backed off of the effort, completing the Eagle requirements at his own pace and without the limitation of having to earn the rank by his 18th birthday.

But he did not do that.

"This option was not acceptable to Carson and he drove himself to earn the rank without using alternate merit badges and before he turned 18," Albaugh said. "He wanted to earn Eagle Scout like most other Scouts."

Since the accident, he has gone on to earn the two remaining merit badges required as part of the Eagle Scout, plus 10 other badges.

For his community service project, he chose to brighten up the break room at Wayne Opportunity Center, where clients with disabilities are matched with jobs around the county. In addition to painting it a bright yellow, tablecloths were added and Chili's donated chairs to the center.

John Chance, executive director of Wayne Opportunity Center and himself active in Scouts for more than 40 years, recalled how the idea originated.

"The men's group at the base chapel does a pizza party for us once a quarter, and Carson comes with them to hand out the pizza," he said. "He had the idea to do something for Wayne Opportunity."

It took months to formulate a plan and implement it, and ultimately translated to more than 30 volunteers working a total of 380 hours, 112 of those by Carson himself, Albaugh said.

"He did a good job," Chance said. "It was really one of the best Eagle projects I have ever seen, because he involved a lot of people from the community -- some adults, some Scouts that hadn't been involved in 20 to 30 years."

At Saturday afternoon's ceremony, Carson listened attentively as the accolades were shared, a smile repeatedly breaking out as others spoke.

He slowly rose to his feet when asked, to recite the Scout oath and law and the Eagle Scout pledge.

Then, assisted by his mother, Heather, the 18-year-old talked about the journey that led up to this moment.

"Many of my obstacles are not as obvious today," he said. "On my first summer camp, Tropical Storm Bill came through the camp and flooded out my tent. Another time, the troop went whitewater rafting and of course, I got knocked out of the raft for a bit. That doesn't even count the miles of walking, the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, gnats and especially the horseflies.

"Scouting teaches you to overcome your obstacles. ... After my accident, I had to relearn many things, but I still remembered the Scout oath and the Scout law."

None of his accomplishments were done alone, though, he said.

Among those he credited were the six Scoutmasters who helped him achieve the rank of Eagle, including his father, Doug.

Carson plans to continue in the Scouting program. In addition to serving as an assistant troop leader, he says he will particularly focus on one of the merit badges he earned.

"I will teach the Disabilities Awareness merit badge as often as I can so that other Scouts can understand that a Scout is more about what is inside than what is outside," he said.