Two and a half seconds. That’s the amount of time that many people wish they could take back. It’s the time it takes to fasten a safety belt.
Deciding not to fasten a safety belt, for many people, means living a lifetime with the consequences of that decision.
Chad Thomas is one of those people. His message to students at Denison Job Corps Center on Friday is a message we’ve all heard, but perhaps not by someone who has had to live with the consequences of not taking the two and a half seconds needed to fasten a safety belt.
Thomas is the coordinator for the TIPS/ Think First, a program of the Iowa Health System.
Thomas, from Spirit Lake, described himself as a normal kid – a decent student and a four-sport athlete. He graduated from high school in May 1998. A couple months later, on July 17, at 5:07 p.m., he was traveling home from one of his three jobs – pouring concrete – when he fell asleep at the wheel of his Ford Explorer. The vehicle entered the ditch and hit a field embankment, which acted as a ramp and caused the explorer to go airborne for 168 feet. The vehicle flipped end over end several times after making a violent impact.
Thomas told the Job Corps students that most of his injuries healed nicely, but the one that can’t heal is a T-10 spinal cord injury. It left him a Paraplegic, without sensation in his lower body and without the use of his legs.
He said a contributing factor in his accident was burning the candle at both ends – getting up at 5:30 a.m., working three jobs, playing baseball and partying, to return home and go to bed at 2 a.m.
Thomas detailed the physical and Occupational Therapy he went through, learning how to get dressed.
“These are all day-to-day activities I knew how to do before the crash. I had to relearn them,” he stated.
Thomas said he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him, pointing out he has learned a lot about himself. Three years ago he graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with degrees in business and psychology. He rode one day on RAGBRAI, using a hand-pedaled bike. And he participates in wheelchair basketball.
He said after his crash, he found out who his friends really were. Some didn’t know how to deal with the wheelchair Thomas is confined to. He found out who he could rely on.
Thomas added his wheelchair also helped narrow down the girls who are interested in him, from the ones who don’t want to deal with the wheelchair.
Thomas, who has been giving his presentation since 2001, said his job with the TIPS/Think First program is a perfect fit for him. It allows him to tell his story and is a way to give back and prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.
“I promise every one of you will be in a car crash at some time in your life,” Thomas told the students. “Two and a half seconds is all it takes, or to have lifetime of change.”
GORDON WOLF , Staff Writer