On September 16, 2020, life took a turn for then-16-year-old Thomas, a celebrated up-and-coming race car driver, who just two days after receiving his restricted license, crashed in his little "run-about" 1.4 litre Holden Barina on a bend near his home. A crash which very nearly killed him.
It was the last time Thomas, who has been kart racing since he was six years old and part of the NZ Elite Motorsport Academy, got behind the wheel.
“There were some fence posts, and I crashed and ended up on my side,” Thomas says of his accident.
Thomas had just got home from school after being told he'd be receiving his New Plymouth Boys’ High School Tiger Jacket, a top honour only some students get for excelling.
“I was on top of the world and wanted to celebrate, so I drove to the local petrol station, only 3.5 kilometres from home, to get some lollies,” Thomas says.
He then jumped back in his car, the three-minute return trip turning into a life-altering journey.
“I remember a guy saying, “Are you OK, mate?” and I think that was the fire engine driver.”
First responders on the scene knew that due to the rural location and potential severity of Thomas’ condition, the rescue helicopter was the best course of action.
The Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter was tasked with the mission.
“We flew down from Hamilton and landed at the scene. A St John ICP had already performed an RSI (Rapid Sequence Intubation), and we took over care from there, putting Thomas on a ventilator, continuing with a drug regime, and flying him quickly back to Hamilton for specialist care,” says highly experienced Critical Care Flight Paramedic (CCFP) Hugo, who was on the mission that day.
Thomas’ only visible injury was a seat belt burn, but inside, his brain had suffered severe whiplash and twisted in his skull. “Just about nobody comes back from a twist of the brain,” says Thomas.
The injury caused his brain to swell, and he lost basic bodily functions. Time was critical for Thomas’ survival and the rescue helicopter was key to getting him to hospital quickly and to the care he needed.
Thomas spent 73 days in a coma - his parents told, that if Thomas lived, he would be stuck in minimal consciousness, a severe state impacting one's awareness.
“It was the worst days of our lives,” his mother, Donna says.
Since then, Thomas has been on the long and challenging road to recovery, learning to walk, talk, and eat again with the help of Auckland ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) Rehabilitation.
“I didn't think of it as rehab, I thought about it as getting back to normal life.”
Thomas’ positive attitude has seen him defy medical specialists' expectations. He finally got the Tiger Jacket he was so excited about, and he was even able to attend his school ball. He now speaks to teenage audiences about staying positive no matter what your circumstances or what life throws at you.
And even after being told he'd likely never walk, talk or eat again, getting back to racing is still top of mind!
Thomas and his family are forever grateful to all those who donate, keeping the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter in the air saving lives just like Thomas.