A 16-year-old from Sullivan, Ohio, who was left paralyzed after a snow-tubing in February, has made miraculous strides since receiving the devastating news that it would take years of rehabilitation before he’s able to walk again.
Tommy Smithberger — a football player at Black River High School — remembers then moment his tube, which was being pulled by a four-wheeler, slammed into a tree on Feb 7.
“I just thought I got the wind knocked out of me, till that went away and then I thought I broke my ribs. And then, I couldn’t feel my legs,” he told Fox 8 News.
After he was taken in a medical helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center, Tommy managed to stay strong after doctors told him he had suffered a spinal cord injury and had been paralyzed from the waist down in the accident and that it would take five or six years before he’s able to walk again.
“I was a little upset, but I said, ‘Game on.’ I’m going to get through this,” he told Fox 8.
His father, Tom Smithberger, told The Wellington Enterprise that his son has been able to communicate but has no feeling from the waist down.
“We’ve been told his spinal cord looks OK, all things considered,” Tom told the outlet. “We were also told the fact he’s bedridden with no movement is pretty normal at this point because of all the swelling. They can’t tell us if he’ll walk again, but there has been some positive feedback.”
He added: “Tommy is fully aware of what’s going on. He remembers my oldest daughter holding his head. He remembers the helicopter ride. He remembers it all.”
According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, “After the swelling of the spinal cord begins to go down, most people show some functional improvement after an injury.
“With many injuries, especially incomplete injuries (some motor or sensory function preserved below the injury level), a person may recover function eighteen months or more after the injury. In some cases, people with [spinal cord injuries] regain some function years after the injury.”
Tommy’s assistant football coach, Matt Stafford, has been working with Tommy at the gym twice a week to help with his recovery. “I just made a commitment that I’m going to do everything I can to get him back on his feet,” he told Fox 8.
“His surgeon told him that he expects him to be in walking braces in 14 months. Tommy told the surgeon that he’s going to do it in seven and that’s our goal,” Stafford said.
According to a GoFundMe page created for the family — which has since raised $9,200 — Tommy has a long road ahead.
“We want to raise money to help with the medical bills that will soon be coming, gas for driving expenses, food and any other accumulating expenses,” a spokesperson wrote on the page for the family.