Just Seven Months After a Car Accident Paralyzed Him, This Dad Learned to Walk Again

He wanted to be able to dance with his wife and walk his daughters down the aisle — and now he can.

More From Personal Stories
20 articles
jesi payne
I Was Slowly Becoming Paralyzed
what it's like to live with a facial deformity
What It's Like to Live With Treacher Collins
emma-leibow-neurofibromatosis-dancing
Inspiring 7-Year-Old Has More Than 30 Tumors

When 34-year-old father-of-two Cole Thomas swerved to avoid a deer on the road last September, his car rolled three times and he woke up paralyzed from the waist down.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Doctors at St. Anthony's Hospital in Chicago told Thomas that he had shattered his L2 vertebra (a bone located in the lower part of the spine), and pieces of it had been scattered and embedded throughout his spinal cord. The Rockford, Illinois-based dad underwent surgery to remove the pieces of bone and insert rods that would stabilize his spine — but his doctors told him he would likely never walk again.

More From Personal Stories
20 articles
jesi payne
I Was Slowly Becoming Paralyzed
what it's like to live with a facial deformity
What It's Like to Live With Treacher Collins
emma-leibow-neurofibromatosis-dancing
Inspiring 7-Year-Old Has More Than 30 Tumors
buzzfeed writer sugar detox
This Woman Gave Up Sugar for 30 Days
dad with cancer stages future milestones photo shoot with his kids
Dad With Cancer Stages Future Milestones With Kids

Thomas wasn't deterred by the prognosis, however. He dreamed of dancing with his wife, Tara, again, and he wanted to walk his daughters, 9-year-old Rylie and 5-year-old Taylor, down the aisle at their weddings someday. So, instead of a resigning himself to a life spent in a wheelchair, he posted a plea to Facebook in hopes that one of his friends might have some information about physical therapy or other resources that could help him.

Ultimately, a relative came across some information on Chicago's Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a facility that provides rehab services for a wide variety of conditions. Thomas decided to give it a shot, and just eight days after his accident, he began in-patient therapy at Shirley Ryan.

I knew I was going to have to give rehab and therapy 110 percent. I have to walk again, no matter what.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The 34-year-old followed the lab's high-intensity, task-specific rehabilitation program for a month but made little progress. He wasn't able to move much by himself, and none of the feeling had returned to his legs. He began to feel discouraged.

"At first, it is really bleak," Thomas told TODAY. "I didn't know anything. You're basically a baby just coming into the world... It put me down in the dumps."

But then he noticed his left big toe was moving. Not only did his hope and determination return full-force, but they did so with amazing results: In the months that followed, he achieved unexpected levels of progress, graduating from in-patient therapy to day therapy and moving from a walker and braces to just a walker to no assistance at all.

"His recovery has been remarkable," Thomas' physical therapist, Megan Hufnagel, told TODAY. "Every single week, he was reaching milestones. Every Friday, Cole did something new."

And so, just seven months after doctors told him he would never walk again, Thomas walked out the doors of the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab on his own two feet. This, of course, was thanks in no small part to his hard work and, ultimately, his attitude — which Hufnagel said is incredibly "important in terms of recovery."

"I knew I was going to have to give rehab and therapy 110 percent just like I did my job," said Thomas, who now hopes to become a physical therapist in the future. "I have to walk again, no matter what. I have to be the best I could be."

Congratulations, Cole!

[h/t TODAY]

More from Dr Oz The Good Life:
buzzfeed writer sugar detox
Nutrition
Share
This Woman Gave Up Sugar for 30 Days and Ate the Most Delicious Meals While Doing It
dad with cancer stages future milestones photo shoot with his kids
Conditions
Share
Dad With Cancer Stages Future Milestones With His Kids as He Gets Ready to Say Goodbye
david-dow-healing-the-broken-brain
Conditions
Share
I Had a Stroke at Age 10 and Was Supposed to Spend the Rest of My Life in a Nursing Home
howard triplets born with craniosynostosis
Conditions
Share
These Adorable Triplets Are Beating the Odds and Overcoming Their Rare Birth Defect
interstitial cystitis
Conditions
Share
My Overactive Bladder Turned Out to Be an Incurable Condition
lulu gilreath scalped by carnival ride: one year later
Health
Share
One Year After Being Scalped on a Carnival Ride, 12-Year-Old Opens Up About Her Ongoing Recovery
jessica-melore-chemo-treatment
Conditions
Share
After a Heart Attack, Heart Transplant, Leg Amputation, and Two Bouts of Lymphoma, I Didn't Think I Had Anything Left to Lose — I Was Wrong
i survived an abusive relationship
Wellness
Share
I Was An MMA Fighter — And a Victim of Domestic Abuse
jessica weber weight loss success
Body
Share
This Woman Went From Eating Two Dinners a Night to Losing Half Her Body Weight
schizophrenia hallucination drawings
Conditions
Share
This Girl's 'Hallucination Art' Is a Haunting Look at What It's Like to Have Schizophrenia