Wednesday, July 16, 2014

One year since, one year strong

Today, the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, marks the one year anniversary of Thom's accident.  As this day approached, we reflected together upon where we were last year and where we are today.  We agree that we want this day to be a joyful remembrance and not a sorrowful one.  After all, the all-encompassing effects of the accident are with us every day, but today is a chance to be grateful for God's mercy, continued providence, and His love.  As Thom wrote in his reflections when he left the hospital, so many miracles were needed for him to get through the accident alive and to survive the following months.  We are so grateful for all of these miracles.  

Today we invite you to pray and celebrate with us for all the grace and beauty that has come out of the accident.  We are grateful beyond words for the outpouring of love and support this past year.  

We want to leave you with a video and photo of what gives us hope and joy these days -- this progress wouldn't be possible without your prayers and generosity!


Please keep the prayers and support coming and Thom will keep the steps coming!  :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Most Happy Birthday (and an Early Birthday Present!)

Today is Thom's birthday and tomorrow is Natalie's birthday. Thom wanted to share a couple thoughts on the happy occasion:

Well before my accident last summer I changed my Facebook settings so that I would have to personally approve every time someone mentioned me in their status update.

Because of this setting I have hundreds of status updates to approve, stretching back to the accident last year. So earlier this week I went through and read dozens and dozens of posts from my family and friends asking for prayers and sharing updates about my recovery (and setbacks) as they happened. Of course my wife did relay this activity to me at the time but I was in a different mental state then. 

Rereading them this week reminds me how blessed I am to be alive today, and how lucky I am to be able to celebrate a birthday this year. And of course, how grateful I should be (and am!) for all the prayers and assistance I have received and continue to receive from my wife, family and friends.

I can't say it any simpler and clearer than this: thank you, thank you God, for my birthday!

We have some other happy news to share -- Thom recently received his manual wheelchair! We will post a photo of him in it soon. It was somewhat ironic that the day he received it he used the chair mostly as a seat to practice standing with his therapist's assistance and spent the rest of the session working on walking! Still we are so happy he has it because this means additional mobility opportunities including more car travel. Also this is the first time he's been in a chair that's actually made to his measurements so it is much easier for him to get around in the apartment and outside -- an early birthday present.

We're both so excited to discover what good things God has in store for us this year!


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Our Grace-filled Pilgrimage

Dear family, friends, and supporters,

Our apologies for not posting an update sooner!  Since our return, we have been busy  with recovery, getting back to therapy, and preparing to host family.  We have also needed some time to pause and reflect on our whirlwind travels.  Going to Lourdes was an extraordinary and powerful experience, which stretched us to our limits and was truly unforgettable.  

Even at the outset, there was so much grace surrounding this opportunity and which helped us make the journey in the first place.  Last winter, when the Knights of Malta "interviewed" us for the trip, we were nowhere near ready to make such a voyage; Thom was far too weak, and we had no experience of traveling in our new circumstances.  But, piece by piece, as the trip approached, necessities came into place.

In the days leading up to the trip, numerous of things beyond our control went wrong.  The day before departure, Thom's new manual chair wasn't ready, despite the company promising it would be.  While we waited, they constructed a temporary chair from spare parts in their warehouse.  When the airport shuttle showed up the day of our trip, the wheelchair lift was malfunctioning and would not work.  We had to ask people passing by to kick and jump on it to make it work.  Once we arrived at the airport, all of the printers at the ticketing counter were malfunctioning.  Our group of 400+ pilgrims waited for hours while they worked to get them back online.  Once our group boarded the plane, there were mechanical difficulties, and 5 hours later, the flight crew had to cancel our departure altogether.  At 1:00 am our group was back in the terminal and needing a place to stay.  Amazingly, the Knights managed to find transportation and rooms for all of us in Baltimore.  It was a grueling ordeal -- it was after 3:30 am before we got to our hotel -- and yet all the pilgrims remained kind and patient with one another and with everyone they encountered.  It was a truly heroic display of virtue. 

The next day, our group celebrated a private anointing Mass at the Basilica in Baltimore.  It was a beautiful, uplifting experience that made everyone realize the pilgrimage had already started.  And even though we hadn't managed to yet leave Baltimore, our adventure had begun.  Travel that day went off without a hitch!  And after a couple hours of sleep on the airplane, we arrived in Lourdes.  

That week in Lourdes was extraordinary; not only by fully participating in the rich and traditional devotions of Lourdes, but by being part of this annual pilgrimage with Knights and Dames of Malta from all around the world.  Over 30,000 Knights, Dames, companions, and sick (malades) gathered in Lourdes and participated in pilgrimage with us.  

A highlight from the trip was most certainly having the experience of washing in the baths.  This opportunity alone was miraculous.  Since we arrived a day late, we unfortunately lost the reservations that had been made a year in advance for our large group.  But somehow that day, despite the overwhelming crowd huddled in the pouring rain, we both managed to gain entrance.  Other highlights include, taking part in the nightly candlelit rosary procession, the Eucharistic procession, and the massive international Mass on Sunday in the underground church.  We also visited the one-room cachot where St. Bernadette lived for a time with her family and attended Mass in the church where she was baptized.  

Every day a different Knight & Dame were assigned to care for Thom.  They pushed  his wheelchair and served in every way they could.  Truth be told, this was a sacrifice for us because we didn't have much time to ourselves to share and contemplate the experiences of each day -- were were always in motion in seemed.  There was also not much time for sleep.  The days began very early and there was a full schedule.  By God's grace, we managed to arrive at the start time every day because we did not want to miss out on any spiritual opportunities.  Thom managed to survive on about half as much sleep as he needs, but that was something to offer up as well.  To say we came back to DC exhausted, would definitely be an understatement.  

Daily meals were shared in common with our group and these events were a great chance to get to know our fellow malades and their companions, to hear their stories and pray together throughout the day.  For us, these individuals were a powerful example of hope and trust, and another reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of struggle.  It was humbling to meet so many faithful members of the Knights of Malta and to be a recipient of their endless generosity.  We had our share of difficulties that arose during the trip, inevitable consequences of such an undertaking, but through these moments and more, the Knights did their very best to care for us and see to our needs, always with patience and kindness.  We will never forget it.

While we were in Lourdes, we embraced many opportunities to remember all of YOU in prayer -- all of you who have supported us, prayed for us, and prayed with us ever since the accident last summer.  We brought a list of these names to Lourdes, and placed them on the altar at the Grotto during a private Mass offered for our group on the Saturday we were there -- almost a 1,000 names in total.  We also lit a votive candle for all of your intentions.  

Since returning home, Thom has had some of his best days of therapy!  Last Wednesday, for the first time, he was able to take a step with his right leg!  Natalie was holding the walker and got to see this leap of progress firsthand.  Needless to say, his therapists are very excited and so are we!  His occupational therapist has also been focusing more on the fingers in his right hand, which are beginning to show faint signs of recovery.  As always, all of this progress means more work and more patient effort, but we have so much to be thankful for.  Truly.  

There is more to share, but for everything that we have yet to discern, and still don't fully appreciate ourselves, we thank you for your patience and continued prayers as we continue to be open to the Lord's Will and Our Lady's intercession.  

Here are some of our favorite photos from our trip!:

Names of family, friends, and supporters left at the altar of the Grotto during our private Mass

Eucharistic procession

At the start of the candlelit rosary procession

Candlelit rosary procession, every night in Lourdes

International Sunday Mass in the underground church

Farewell dinner out in the countryside (beautiful Pyrenees mountains!)  


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes

As Thomas and Natalie prepare for their pilgrimage to Lourdes, please join us in praying this Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes for his full recovery. Please pray also for all the other pilgrims who will also make their pilgrimage! (And for their safe travels!)


Be blessed, O most pure Virgin, for having vouchsafed to manifest your shining with life, sweetness and beauty, in the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to the child, St. Bernadette: "I am the Immaculate Conception." A thousand times we congratulate you upon your Immaculate Conception. And now, O ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of mercy, Health of the sick, Refuge of sinners, Comforter of the afflicted, you know our wants, our troubles, our sufferings deign to cast upon us a look of mercy.

By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a privileged sanctuary, whence you dispense your favors, and already many have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and physical. We come, therefore, with the most unbounded confidence to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain for us, O loving Mother, the granting of our request.

(state your request - for Thomas Peter's full recovery!)

Through gratitude for your favors, we will endeavor to imitate your virtues, that we may one day share your glory. Our Lady of Lourdes, Mother of Christ, you had influence with your divine son while upon earth. You have the same influence now in Heaven. Pray for us; obtain for us from your Divine Son our special requests if it be the Divine Will. Amen.

Follow with a daily prayer: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. 
Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

Novena originally posted by EWTN.
Icon written by Br. Claude Lane, OSB, of Mount Angel Abbey, OR.
Learn more about Lourdes.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Frustrating Setback

We've had a bumpy week.  Last Tuesday Thom woke up with a fever and was fatigued, but otherwise was feeling fine.  His temperature went down in the course of the day and we hoped he was improving.

The next morning, I got him out of bed and was putting his slippers on and all of a sudden he became like a stone.  I looked up at his face and his eyes were crossing, his speech was slurring, and he was disoriented.  I knew his blood pressure was plummeting.  I put his legs up, took his blood pressure and it was dangerously low.  I called 911.  His BP came up a bit, he could refocus and was alert once more.  I began packing up necessities while we waited for the EMS.  He still had a fever of 103, high heart rate, and low blood pressure.  We were taken to the ER where we stayed for several hours while they ran multiple tests.

The test results showed he had a serious urinary tract infection and was very dehydrated.  They said the infection had escalated and he was going into sepsis, which means the infection was spreading to other parts of his body.  He was immediately put on a course of IV antibiotics and fluids.  He was admitted later that day and began responding to the treatment.  His fever, heart rate, and blood pressure stabilized and within 24 hours his appetite started coming back.

We stayed in the hospital for two more days while Thom continued to receive IV antibiotics and they monitored his vitals.  By Sunday afternoon he was ready to be discharged but the infection left him very weak.  For the first few days home he had to use his sliding board again to do transfers.  He managed to fit in two days of therapy, but was frustrated to see how much strength he had lost.

Now, a week later, he is beginning to feel more like himself and is determined to make up for lost time.  He is scheduled for two separate days of training in the Lokomat this week and a third day of general therapy.

He is eager to be back to full strength as April is an exciting month for us: we will be celebrating our first anniversary, Easter, and gearing up for our trip to Lourdes at the end of the month.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Safe Landing + Going "Loko"

We can hardly believe a month has passed since we wrote an update: March has been busy indeed! We've been getting a lot of questions about the status of the Lokomat and Chicago travels, which is great, because we have good news to share on both fronts!

The Chicago trip went very well! We were well prepared and knew what to expect, thanks to receiving some expert advice from fellow SCI patients and mentors. One of the benefits of traveling in a wheelchair is getting to skip the security line, but one of the drawbacks is how many transfers you have to do to get to your seat and back again. For instance, when we landed in Chicago, Thom had to transfer from his seat on the plane to a rickety chair (that fits down the plane aisle), to an airport wheelchair, to his power chair.  Fortunately, his transfers have become so much stronger that this wasn't a problem.

The conference was in the airport hotel, so we didn't have to brave Chicago winter. (We even managed to fit in a short visit with some dear friends after the welcome dinner.) The conference was informative, but re-confirmed our decision to wait on the baclofen pump. The other SCI patients were all further out from their injury and had a better idea of what they needed in terms of spasticity treatment. Overall, it was an excellent practice for our up-coming trip to France! We did take away a lot from the conference. It was an incredible experience meeting other SCIs and inspiring to hear their stories. 

Back home in DC, Thom had his first training session in the Lokomat last week!!!

The circumstances worked out perfectly. A snowstorm had prevented some of the other patients from coming in. Thom is never one to let bad weather to keep him from therapy: since Metro Access wasn't running, Thom called a handicap accessible cab instead to bring him in. When he arrived, his physical therapist told him the Lokomat was finally up and running and they had just gotten off the phone with the Lokomat's designers in Switzerland where they approved the Lokomat open for business! It took about two hours to customize the machine to Thom's dimensions and create his user profile in the system. Now customized to his profile, future sessions can pick up where he left off each time and will track the minutiae of progress. He has already noticed that the Lokomat is good for "gait training" (making strides of the proper length and coordinating the timing of the legs with each other). It is also excellent for warming his legs up and getting the muscles firing. After about 30 minutes in the Lokomat, Thom's therapist had him exit the machine and practice walking with a platform walker suspended from the ceiling in the ZeroG. Thom's left leg can now consistently take steps without assistance, the right leg is close behind.

Thom continues to make progress in other areas of PT and OT, but we will save those for the next post and hope to update these pages more frequently! Thank you for continuing on this long journey with us!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning to Walk... and Fly!

This short month of February has been the story of slow, but steady progress.  We put away Thom's transfer board because he no longer needs it, he is able to do transfers by supporting his own weight!

In PT, Thom is practicing stand-pivot transfers, made possible because he is starting to be able to carry weight on his legs and push down on his feet.  Once a week Thom uses the ZeroG on top of a treadmill.  He said his steps are starting to feel more organic, which is very exciting!  As his steps improve he requires less assistance, although some is definitely still needed.  

Unofficially, Thom has been told that the Lokomat should be ready in early March!  He is so excited to begin training with this technology.  In the meantime, he has added more weight to his leg press, and has started using two new leg machines that work his hamstring and quad muscles.  But most of the exercise is focused on increasing his lumbar and lower back muscles, which need to be strong enough to support standing, and hopefully, taking steps without assistance.

Over in OT, Thom's left hand continues to get stronger and is gaining more dexterity.  We have prayed another novena to St. Francis for his stubborn right hand, which is still very slow to make any progress in recovery.  They have added several new exercises in OT to strengthen his wrists and forearms, and to increase the flexibility of his left arm and shoulder, which has been lagging behind the right side.  

We have more fun news to share.  In a couple weeks we will be flying to Chicago for an overnight trip!  With the recommendation of his doctor, Thom was invited by a medical company to participate in a research panel on spinal cord injury and muscle spasms.  This is an opportunity to share our experience, meet other individuals recovering from SCI, and also a chance to practice plane travel in advance of our pilgrimage to Lourdes in a couple months.  Please pray that our travel is a success and that the conference is fruitful.  

Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who continues to support and pray for us on this long journey.