A Miracle for the Music Man

Valley Children's helps a family experience the miracle of mobility

Miracles happen every day at Valley Children’s Hospital, and the Thomas family expected one for their 2-year-old, Anthony. They anxiously waited week after week to experience it, enduring a string of days that dragged like years. “The first month I was so stressed,” said Timica Thomas, Anthony’s mother, recalling the frightful circumstance of keeping watch over her critically injured son in the Hospital. “He was not even moving,” she said. “For Anthony to be able to move again was not a promise we were given.”

Little Anthony Thomas was admitted to Valley Children's Hospital on May 16, 2009, with a traumatic injury to his cervical spine. “I dropped him at my cousin’s house that day and took my daughters shopping,” said Timica. “I wasn’t very far away, just a couple of blocks, when I got the call,” she said. The phone call from her cousin delivered devastating news. Anthony had fallen from the top of his cousin’s bunk bed while playing video games. The fall caused the first two vertebrae in Anthony’s neck to break.

Damage to the uppermost part of the spinal column normally causes paralysis in the muscles of the chest wall and affects the neurologic control of breathing. Anthony’s fall literally took his breath away. He needed a tracheostomy and ventilator to survive. He also received a halo to stabilize his neck while the vertebrae healed.

“Anthony's injury was complicated because the damage to the spinal cord was so high on his cervical spine,” said Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director, Valley Children’s Hospital pediatric rehabilitation center. “There were so many vital systems affected.”

More than four weeks into his hospital stay, Anthony could not move anything below his neck, and his head remained secured by the halo. In spite of it all, Anthony’s expressive eyes and mouth were full of life. “The nurses called him ‘Music Man’ because he babbled all the time,” said Timica.

Anthony’s parents understood the effects of the neurological damage caused by their son’s fall, but they continued to believe and hope for the best possible outcome for Anthony. They still expected their miracle.

“After Anthony was in the Hospital about a month and a half, he squeezed my hand,” said Anthony Thomas, Sr., Anthony’s dad. “I got the nurse and showed her, and all of a sudden everyone was in the room – doctors and nurses, everyone.” The Thomas family finally received their miracle.

Anthony’s recovery would involve countless baby steps over a period of many months, but the elder Anthony and Timica had reason to hope their son would recover additional neurological function, and perhaps sit unsupported and even transition from a wheelchair to a walker one day.

“Despite his young age, Anthony was a very hard worker and he displayed a fantastic attitude during his rehabilitation stay,” said Dr. Crocker.

After four months of hospitalization, Anthony was discharged on Sept. 15 with a wheelchair and ventilator. In the years since his injury, he has become more adept with his version of a walker. The apparatus, known as a “Kid Walk,” has a seat to bear his weight, but he must use his legs in order to move. “He loves it!” exclaimed Timica.

Every night Anthony asks for help walking to bed – without the Kid Walk. “I put my hands like this,” said his mother, pantomiming wrapping her hands around an invisible waistline. “And I support him while he walks to his bed.”

“We are grateful to have been able to work with such a terrific kid and family and continue to hope for more recovery,” said Dr. Crocker.

Christopher Reeve, famous for his role as Superman, received accolades for his heroic achievements after injuring his cervical spine. The medical staff at Valley Children's Hospital, who have enjoyed the honor of treating Anthony Thomas, know another hero who overcame a devastating spinal cord injury. Here at Valley Children’s we call him “Music Man.