Thomas' story

Thomas works with therapists at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation

Sometimes you get an ultimatum that will determine the course of the rest of your life. After a drug overdose nearly ended his time on Earth, Thomas, a 28-year-old New Jersey man, faced a choice: live or die.

Thomas chose to live.

Thomas’s sister, Anna, was clear in her telling: “[At the hospital], he had no brain activity and we were in discussions to let him go. We met with organ donation to plan and donate his organs. My brother and I were talking to Tommy above the bed and said, ‘If you’re going to wake up, you need to do it in the next few days.’”

A few days later, Thomas was able to grasp hands and gave a thumbs up to his sister and brother. After achieving medical stability, his doctors suggested an intensive inpatient rehabilitation program to aid in restoring his independence.

Thomas was brought to Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation - Marlton to continue his recovery and rehabilitation. His future seemed uncertain. Not only was he battling addiction but he’d suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to the drug overdose, leaving him with limited mobility, cognitive impairment and the odds stacked against him.

Thomas's rehabilitation plan would be a multi-faceted effort led by a physician. At the start, Thomas relied on a patient lift for transfers, had no lower body movement, poor trunk and head control and struggled to maintain alertness or respond to simple questions. His treatment called for physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Physical therapy introduced Thomas to tilt table exercises, aquatic therapy and high-intensity interval training (HITT). Over time, he progressed to using a wheelchair with minimal assistance and began to take steps with a walker. His physical therapists saw his humor return as he progressed, as he’d belt out rock lyrics and crack jokes.

In addition to physical therapy, Thomas worked concurrently with occupational therapists to regain independence in completing his daily living tasks. He gradually regained range of motion and improved his ability to dress himself and use the bathroom.

Speech therapy played a crucial role in Thomas's recovery. At the beginning, he had a tracheostomy and struggled with communication. By the time of his discharge, Thomas had made substantial progress. A major milestone occurred when his tracheostomy was removed as he could participate in conversations and structured treatment interventions.

Thomas defied the odds, and Anna, who was told he might never walk again, cried as she watched him taking steps with a walker. “I felt completed when I took a step,” said Thomas. “You just got to keep the faith—one step at a time, one breath at a time.”

The support of Thomas's family and friends played a critical role in his recovery. Their love and presence motivated him throughout his rehabilitation.

Prior to discharge, Thomas even mentioned that he’d like to become a motivational speaker to inspire individuals struggling with addiction.

“We are truly grateful for everyone [at Kessler],” said Anna. “I really think that he can have a really great quality of life going forward.”