Overland Park, KS- We are often inspired after learning about someone who has overcome tremendous adversity or obstacles to achieve a seemingly unrealistic goal. The people who successfully conquer these challenges are different from most of us. Frequently, their motivation seems to be driven by an intensely positive attitude, while also bringing out the best in everyone around them. The story that follows is about one of these very special people.
In June 2005, Thomas Eddy (pictured) was sitting at his desk one afternoon at Kansas City-based Global Connections, a nationally respected travel club. He felt a sharp pain in his lower back, knew that his blood pressure was racing and walked himself into the emergency room of Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park. He was discharged 35-days later in a wheelchair, permanently paralyzed from his waist down, the result of an extremely rare stroke, caused by a blood clot in his spinal cord.
Just 57 years old at the time of his life-altering stroke, Thomas had the same questions anyone would have in a similar situation: would he ever be able to walk again, would he be able to retain his job (which required extensive travel) and support his family? Although he worried about how his life would change, he also possessed an amazingly positive attitude about his new predicament.
The job part was easy. Global Connections President Tom Lyons said simply, “Don’t worry about work! You’ve ALWAYS got a position with us no matter what happens.”
With time off for treatment and rehabilitation, the 24-year Global Connections veteran has remained in his position as VP of Sales, responsible for coordinating the company’s sales distributorships and contract processing for 28 sales centers in 20 states. The centers are distributors of the company’s travel club product, Global Discovery Vacations (GDV), which offers Star Credits, similar to timeshare’s points-based programs. Previously Thomas spent a major portion of his time on the road, helping to open the company’s sales centers across the country. Now other employees are providing assistance in this area.
For three years after his stroke, Thomas received standard rehabilitation services, which did not include any therapy to his legs, resulting in virtually no progress. “It was extremely frustrating,” he recalls. “I quickly learned that once someone becomes paralyzed, both the medical community and insurance companies assume you are never going to make any further progress. Rehab is done only to the upper body to build stamina and body strength.” He learned that this type of therapy is designed to allow patients to merely exist with insurance providing for only a certain number of rehab sessions. There was no therapy to get patients walking again. “Everything appeared to be dictated by insurance qualifications,” he added, “so we had to figure out a different way to pay for it.” Unable to accept that situation as final, Thomas felt there was a need for another alternative.
“After being in sales for so long, I’ve learned not to take no for an answer and started looking for other options,” said Thomas Eddy. “I discovered only three U.S. facilities advocating exercise out of the chair by providing aggressive recovery methods and offering an intensive exercise-based program for individuals with spinal cord injuries. John Teegarden (who has a similar disability) and I visited Project Walk in California, witnessed their amazing progress, and decided to open a similar facility in Overland Park, Kansas, naming it Quest to Walk.”
After extensive research, fundraising, and over a year in the planning, the center opened in April 2008. Today, four certified trainers serve about a dozen patients at any given time. The program revolves around a simple premise: exercise out of the chair. Quest to Walk utilizes the Dardzinski Method to help patients exercise their paralyzed limbs to regenerate nerve tissue and muscle. Because each injured nervous system is unique and each patient has different capabilities, the program is tailored to the patient. In every workout, trainers focus on stimulating the central nervous system with load-bearing exercises.
Participants come for a trial week – a local program for those able to visit on a weekly basis – or a home program, designed for those who live outside the Kansas City area. They return to their hometown with a DVD and instructions to manage the program back home.
Explains Thomas, “Insurance won’t cover all our expenses, so we are dependent on fundraisers and donations to continue to provide these special services. Since we are a 501.c non-profit organization, the donations generated by our three annual fundraisers are extremely important to our existence and help make up the shortages.”
Through a week of corporate fundraising events, combined with donations generated by an annual half marathon event known as the Hospital Hill Run, employees of Global Connections and Kansas City citizens recently helped to raise over $40,000 to benefit Quest to Walk. More than 70 runners participated by obtaining pledges from within and outside of the company. The majority of the money raised from the race and other Global events is being used to purchase equipment and supplement out-of-pocket fees for patients of Quest to Walk.
Within about nine months of therapy, Thomas has made significant progress toward his ultimate goal — to walk again – and can now pedal a stationary bike on his own for as long as 15 minutes at a time. His overall health has improved tremendously. “Proudly,” he adds, “all of our Quest to Walk patients, including paraplegics as well as quadriplegics, have enjoyed varying degrees of positive results.” This includes a 17-year old quadriplegic who was in a car accident and now has some shoulder strength as well as a 12-year old girl who previously had little movement in her arms and has recently transitioned from a power to a manual wheelchair. In just six months, one quadriplegic can now use a power chair and move his right hand and, for the first time since his accident, is able to shake his mother’s hand.
Reminisces Thomas Eddy, “When I started this mission, I was primarily focused on being able to walk again. Then I met so many young adults and younger people in far worse shape. I think now if I could just get someone in that group walking and to prove to the medical community this works, that would be great payback for my efforts. While he is a little younger, John feels the same way and has made good progress, moving from a wheelchair to a walker.”
“Before his stroke,” recalls Tom Lyons, “Thomas Eddy was a great person to work with, always extremely positive in the trenches. Since the stroke, he has not changed a bit, maintaining his same upbeat personality and not letting it affect his work. Sure, he has down times but never makes excuses for himself. Plus, our staff members have generously volunteered to assist Thomas in any way they can and eagerly added his responsibilities to their own when therapy is required. We are proud that Thomas has such a positive attitude about his situation and his executive position with Global, while at the same time providing leadership and guidance to Quest to Walk, the facility he helped open, sharing his ‘can-do’ philosophy with other Quest to Walk patients.”
To learn more about Quest to Walk, visit www.quest2walk.org or call 913-451-1500.
To contact Thomas Eddy at Global Connections, call 913-451-0960, Extension 224
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