Jake Thomas's Road to Recovery
Jake’s injuries include 7 broken ribs, a dislocated hip and fractured acetabulum, but worst of all - a T12 burst fracture. On Sunday, the 8th, the Sunnybrook neurosurgeon confirmed that Jake sustained a complete spinal cord injury, resulting in paralysis from the waist down.
Although the news was devastating for all of us, Jake has bravely accepted his new reality; he has displayed the ultimate courage, strength and perseverance anyone could ever demonstrate under these tragic circumstances.
As many of you know, Jake is husband to Jenny Thomas, and the proud father to four terrific kids: Lauren (15), Ethan (13), Grace (10) and Luke (7). Jake has always been an exceptionally involved father, who not only takes a very active role in his kids’ lives, but also in the Bracebridge/Muskoka community at large. Jake routinely supports the community by coaching hockey and soccer teams, creating community videos, shuttling other parents’ kids to various activities, and offering assistance to anyone in need.
He has spent countless hours enjoying water sports on Riley Lake, Lake Rosseau and many other lakes throughout Ontario.
Pre-kids, you could find Jake in one of two places, behind the boat wakeboarding, barefooting, showing off his latest tricks, or behind the wheel of a boat coaching and encouraging hundreds of people to practice their new moves.
Both Jake and Jenny share a deep love for Muskoka, with their families dating back generations throughout the Muskoka region. It’s no wonder that they chose to settle down and raise their four kids in the small but special town of Bracebridge.
Over the years, Jake and his family have developed several small business initiatives in the community that have left a positive and impactful impression on the town and its occupants. It is not just the business contributions that make Jake and Jenny so very special, but the camaraderie that they have with all the residents, cottagers and visitors that make them stand out amongst the crowd.
Jake has always had huge involvement in many outdoor sports, including: mountain biking, wakeboarding, hockey, downhill skiing and snowmobiling. While he is extremely passionate about athletics, at the end of the day he is a 'drop what you’re doing, roll up your sleeves and help a neighbour out’ type of guy.
The Thomas family will have some significant challenges in the near future that they could not have prepared for and should not have to endure alone. Jake and Jenny need our help, and so it’s time for all of us to ‘roll up our sleeves’ and give back to the Thomas family. Let’s all band together and ensure that he and his family can move forward. Let’s all help make the road ahead as smooth and effortless as possible, as the family prepares for the necessary transitions.
Each and every dollar counts, a donation of any size would be greatly appreciated, because, as we all know, It’s not the amount donated by one individual that will have the greatest impact, but the effort of a whole community that will make all the difference. The monies raised will be used to help retrofit the family home and vehicles, to purchase the necessary mobility devices, and allow Jake to have as much comfort as possible in his day-to-day living.
In advance, the Thomas-Soden-Vaughan-Ford families want to thank you for your love, support and generosity.
After weeks of planning and packing we finally started renovations on our house to make it more wheelchair friendly for my return. The support and generosity of friends and local businesses continues to blow me away. Many have volunteered time and materials leaving this guy once again speechless. Special shout out to Jordan Elliott, Jake Morrice and Tamarack North. Jamie Doran and Fitzmaurice Brothers. Dave Knowles and Knowles plumbing. Mark Quemby and Quemby Electric. Modern Home Carpet One. Gord and Nate Bain, Jeremy Knight, Darren Budd And my inlaws Corinne Vaughan Soden and Emily Soden for helping to orchestrate the packing and moving.
The doctors are still working on a drug recipe to help the now constant leg pain but it's a lengthy process to see if any drug will actually work. As the swelling in my spinal cord decreases, the real effects of the damage has begun to surface. My feet feel like they are about to explode any my thighs are constantly on fire with short sharp pains followed by 20 second femur breaking cramps. All of which are stemming from the section of my spinal cord that was damaged by bone fragments from my break. If I try and point my toes some of the pain goes away. As soon as I stop it comes right back in full force. When I sleep the pain goes away but as soon as I awake so too does the pain. It's insane how the body works but hopefully there is a solution to be found with neuropathic drugs somewhere in my future because this is driving me insane.
Had the opportunity to try sledge hockey this week albeit only on wheels and not ice but I did see the potential in this sport. We are fortunate in Muskoka to have a fully sledge ready arena in Gravenhurst thanks to Paralympian Graeme Murray. Anybody up for some sledge when I get back?
I think my physiotherapist likes to torture me because he's throwing harder and harder tasks my way. Since I can wheelie down ramps fairly consistently now, he thought I should try doing a wheelie up the ramp only not the way you are thinking right now. In a wheelchair you can only wheelie up a ramp backwards meaning I pop a wheelie, then pull myself up the ramp backwards while holding the wheelie. I managed this task with relative ease so he then asked if I could get back into my wheelchair should I fall out or simply need to climb back in from the ground. I suggested he show me first which he did adding even more pressure to the situation because he made it look effortless. Several grunts, groans and a few sharts later I was back in my chair and up off the ground. Next he tipped himself over onto his back while still in the wheelchair and proceeded to push himself back up onto his wheels. I have to admit I was impressed with his wheelchair skills considering he is a walker. After we discussed the technical merits of this process in great detail it was my turn. He slowly tipped my chair over onto its back and I worked through his technique albeit significantly slower finally managing to get back up onto my wheels. Crazy but necessary skills I will need to continue to practice because it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when I will need them.
The week finished off with a pretty major high. There is an apartment here at Lyndhurst to help patients transition back into the real world unassisted so Jenny and the kids came down for the weekend which was fantastic. We stuffed the 6 of us and all our gear into this 1 bedroom apartment in true Thomas fashion. It was a little nerve wracking not having any nurses for help but a necessary step in seeking my independence. I had some serious quality time with the kids and Jenny. For the first time in 2 months we were a family again and the warmth of unconditional love was immense. We had a super lazy day together Saturday just watching tv and hanging out which was awesome. Anybody else catch the Planet of the Apes marathon on AMC? Sunday we went to Variety Village where I got to try swimming for the first time with this new body. Once I got over my fear of drowning and let go of all the floatation devices I tried a variety of strokes. I found comfort in back and breast stroke however front crawl was almost impossible due to the new hardware in my back. Apparently the 5 level fusion has a seriously negative effect on my flexibility. I never realized how much one needs to be able to arch the back when swimming freestyle.
Although the weekend was met with a great deal of leg pain it was pale in comparison to having to say goodbye to my family yet again on Sunday night. Only a few short weeks to dial in the pain meds and continue getting stronger before I can return home to my family for good.
Thanks to everyone for the support as always. Onward and upward...
The countdown to my discharge begins and sadly I feel I am nowhere near ready to leave. I've been making progress over the last few months in physical and mental ways but this week seemed to finish up with more set backs.
Wheelchair skills continue to improve with more practice but the 6" concrete curb is still my nemesis. I'm about 2:10 on successful climbs but hopefully that number will increase with more practice.
I went for an outing with a few other patients on a TTC wheeltrans bus to a place called variety village. It's an amazing facility that houses a huge running/rolling track with 3 basketball courts to the inside and loads of accessible fitness equipment to the outside of the track. There are various accessible pools and lots of active things to do. We were only there for a tour but I plan on going back before my discharge should I build of the nerve to ride the wheeltrans again. Once again my body was a Hawaiian bobblehead on the bus only this time there were 3 of us in unison like a well rehearsed circus act. Buddy the driver was flying across Eglington at breakneck speed then jammed on the brakes sending all of us into the Air Canada crash position in the blink of an eye. Must be another driver from Montreal.
Over the past few weeks I have been experiencing more and more leg pain likely do to the swelling in my spinal cord starting to subside. Remember I wrote about the occasional pain in my leg which felt like someone was trying to break my femur in half while setting it on fire. Well the fire is now non stop and the painful breaking sensation seems to be far more frequent. Like from 8 a day to 20 brutal cramps a day. And believe me they are debilitating. Can't do anything but hold on for the grueling 30 second ride. I'm on my 4th type of neuro painkillers and they are just not working. Last nights drug experiment resulted in me not being able to sleep. Sleep was the only time my legs didn't hurt and now that has been taken away from me only to endure more pain. Needless to say, this fucking sucks!
Not only that but the battle continues with my guts as they try and find a routine that will work for digestion and a bathroom. I'm scared to come home as I have no control over certain parts of my body which is both embarrassing and extremely debilitating. How am I to function in the real world without control? That's scary shit. Pun intended.
Had some visits from some interesting people this week. Met Kevin Rempel who broke his back in a similar place to
mine and spent his time at Lyndhurst in the exact same bed I am in 10 years ago. He injured himself riding freestyle motocross then years later went on to win an Olympic gold metal in sledge hockey. He is now walking and has written a book about his journey. Was super cool to hang out with him and we exchanged a few good laughs.
Renovations on our home hopefully begin this coming week so I can come home to more accessibility at the end of the month or shortly there after.
I have held my head pretty high during this process all things considered but the last few days have simply taken the wind out of my sails. I'm hopeful we figure things out in the next 3 weeks because there is now way I can be sent home like this.
Not the best post this week but it really wasn't the best week. Hoping for better days ahead. Thanks for reading as always.
Week 7. Wow. Time here at Lyndhurst is just flying by. It feels like I'm not making any gains but I had a nurse this morning that I have not seen in a few weeks and she was blown away with the change in my condition since her last visit. I guess that means I'm making progress, it's just hard to track them while I'm here doing my thing.
My Ribs are now stable. The back is feeling better albeit really tight from the fusion. Overall I'm getting physically stronger in the gym and the endorphin rush feels therapeutic. My guts have now become my biggest battle. I have no appetite but eat 3 meals a day with some key snacks in between. My body is still struggling with digestion which is uncomfortable, frustrating and debilitating. The doctors are trying their best to make it all work and I'm learning lots from other paraplegic support staff here but I need to get this all dialed in before my discharge at the end of March or else I might not be able to leave.
Truthfully I don't feel ready to leave. I had a few day passes last weekend which was great to get out but they were a huge eye opener as far as accessibility goes. All the floors here are perfect and barrier free. The sidewalks and roads in the real world are anything but perfect. I'm working hard in physio on wheelchair skills which I will definitely need out there. Things like rolling up and over a curb. Rolling through gravel and transitioning over thresholds. My old body used to just step over these obstacles without even blinking but my new body looks at a small 6" street curb like it's a rock face. Walking on grass, dirt and snow are now impossible feats unless I'm looking to get stuck. If you are reading this post I challenge you to look at your own environments and imagine being in a wheelchair and how that might work out. It's crazy yet unavoidable.
The only way to face this new reality is to jump in feet first. Inappropriate analogy for this specific guy but you get the idea. I have met some very inspirational people since my accident. One in particular is a fellow paraplegic who relies on nothing other than his wheelchair to live his life. Nothing stands in his way which shows me that anything is possible.
I rode a hand bike yesterday which is a pretty cool adaptive solution for road cycling. Spooked the staff when I took off
like a bat out of hell as they thought I was out of control. They obviously didn't know who they were dealing with. Can't wait to see the look on their face when I try the mountain bike version.
It's hard to believe it's been 6 weeks since my accident. Time is whipping by here which is frightening because I'm supposed to be heading home in 5 more weeks and I am no where near ready. This week started out lame with yet another infection which took me down for another few days till the meds kicked in. This is a common occurrence as I need to catheterize to urinate but I can now do them on my own so hopefully the less hands on deck the better. The good news is the ribs are finally back to normal although I have yet to sneeze. Knock on wood.
I have been experiencing more frequent neurological short circuits aka phantom pain which is a variety of twitches and jolts plus an insane cramp in my legs which feels like my femur is being snapped and subsequently set on fire. My natural instinct is to rub and squeeze my leg which helps put my mind at ease but the pain is not even originating from my legs. It's lost somewhere between the spine and the brain. Trying some different meds to keep them at bay and I think we almost have the right mix figure out.
Had a good week in physio working on wheelchair skills. I have been back in the obstacle course working on wheelies and ramps and now I'm learning wheelies down Ramps. If I encounter a steep ramp or hill I have to wheelie down them to avoid tipping forward. Pretty freaky stuff when your legs don't work because your natural instinct is to stick a leg out to help balance. I was also struggling with the chair the other day and though it was faulty. No matter what I did it would not roll forward. Took me a few minutes to realize my foot had fallen off and was wedged in the front wheel. Oops. Need to be careful with the feet because I can't feel them I can't feel any injuries. I'm slowly getting the hang of all this but man, it's hard!
The sensation of paralysis is still the same and it's hard to get used to. I'm constantly sitting on a big bag of water so my balance point is limited to a few degrees in any direction. I feel like like a "weeble wobble" except I won't magically pop back up when I tip over. This new body is far more flexible forward that my previous one as I can now touch my feet while keeping my legs completely straight. Apparently it's not that I'm just that awesome but rather the atrophy has created new levels of flexibility in my hamstrings. A necessary evil for putting on my own socks, pants and shoes as I found out this week.
As I learn to tackle the new obstacles in my life I actually get angry at how easy some of it once was. A seemingly minuscule task done in seconds before now can take upwards of 5 minutes to perform. When you know how easy it once was it's frustrating to have something take so much longer. Like once you have high speed internet there no going back to dial up. Well this is dial up and a flurry of other stark reality checks constantly bring me down. Almost everything from here on in will be more difficult to do and in some cases not possible at all. But I just have to roll around Lyndhurst and look around to realize I can still wrap my arms around Jenny and the children and squeeze them all tight. I can self propel and will learn other ways to get around like a hand bike, sledge hockey, and a sit ski. I will learn to be relatively independent and there is still soooo much that I can do that others here cannot. As much as my new condition blows big time, the reality is it could have been much worse.
Had my first real outing yesterday. My parents picked me up and we went to Ethan's swim meet in Etobicoke. Was great to get out on such a beautiful day and it was even better to be hanging out with my family and some friends outside of Lyndhurst. The transfer to and from the car went well so we headed to the aquarium today on another outing. Can't handle crowds very well yet but then again I never could.
As usual, thanks for everyone's continued support. It really helps to keep me going so please keep it coming.
Lots of love...
I hope this goes well for him. I suffered much the same except 5 different disks and joints were damaged in the spine. Although I am very lucky though a misformed/malformed spinal issue saved my bacon as they say. I was left with only partial parathesis. Although I do go through a ton of pain every day. I wish you all the best in your journey Jake, stay strong and don't give up.
It was so wonderful to see you out at the concert last night Jake! David and I really enjoyed the evening. The highlight of course was seeing you and being able to reach out and give you a hug. We think and speak of you often and we read all of your updates. I think I speak for the whole community when I say that we look forward to your return home. Xo
I have sent this link to a radio station in Sacramento in the hopes they may help out. I have also sent the link to all my friends letting them know Rik Emmett has some cool stuff to Auction off and to please help if possible. I hope it helps.
I just shared this on Facebook.....thinking about Jake and family .
Hi Jake, my Mom just saw your Dad play in Mesa, Arizona yesterday and I told her to go say hello. Of coarse your Dad was super friendly with her and remembered me when she asked about you and Carrie. I have been looking for you on FB but could not find you. I am happy to finally know what you have been up to for the past 20 years, but sad to know what has happened. You have always been a positive and fun person to be around, and I am very proud to see that you are still doing all the sports you love. I am sure you will recover sooner than most because of who you are, that great guy who is always around to help others and no matter what you will figure out a new way to do all those sports again soon. I am sure that support you give others will come back around to you. Please take care of yourself and stay positive as you do. Your Friend, Mackie Lewis :)
The word is already out among your many friends in the toy industry. You are in our thoughts and prayers, and we are spreading the news that help is needed.
Hi Jake.......Cathie and Morris Mostowyk. We're friends of Marg Soden. My father was in Lyndhurst for four months recovering from an auto accident. We cannot say enough wonderful things about Lyndhurst, and their staff and skills. You will be in excellent hands. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
It's so great to hear you have kept your sense of humour throughout this time. I loved reading this update and look forward to more in the future. Keep fighting, Jake (without boxing gloves, preferably)!
Jake, I found out only last night by a phone call from a friend, for these many yrs I've always known you as Ian's really amazing son, and thru the yrs as I enquired about you with "so how's Jake doing"? I'd always been joyfully impressed with Ian's reports and updates, this moment as I begin reading thru the situation and the comments of your life in more detail,but most impressively, Your comments, you're Dad never had reason to embellish the successes and accomplishments of his Son, you truly are an amazing man now, and father and husband,,your diligence and sense of humour has and always will be an inspiration to me and the great many who've been a part of your life, who now more than ever sieze the opportunity to return to you that which you've given soo honestly, there is no love greater than this, and it,, can never be taken from you