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Thomas Cloyd did adaptive yoga last week at Mind Body Solutions in Minnetonka with instructor Mary Pat Fitzpatrick.

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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To read more of Thomas Cloyd's blog or to donate to his recovery efforts, go to www.tcloyd.com.

Edina man shares triumphs, trials as he recovers from spinal injury

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • January 8, 2013 - 11:16 PM

The name of Thomas Cloyd's blog says it all: "TC - The Comeback."

In it, he shares the trials and triumphs of a 25-year-old man who is learning how to live with a spinal cord injury while working to regain as much strength and functioning as possible.

Cloyd, of Edina, has made much physical progress in the six months since he dove into a shallow part of a Wisconsin lake, damaging his spinal cord.

But those who know him say his positive attitude and sense of humor are just as remarkable. Through his blog, he proves both are still intact.

"I started blogging so people could see where I was [with recovery], because so many people were concerned. It's a good record for me, too," Cloyd said.

"It's really nice just to do it and to know people are reading it. I'm just a vain SOB," he joked.

Cloyd's posts, dictated to his dad or a friend, are filled with jokes about "nearly striking children and running over small dogs" while taking his power-assist wheelchair for a spin around Lake Harriet, thank-yous to those who have sent him gifts and money, and reflection on how painful his injury can be.

Though his tone is usually cheerful and focused on milestones -- "I rode a fricking bike for 15 minutes with electrical stimulation going into my quads and gluts," he wrote on Oct. 2 -- he doesn't shy away from the tough stuff.

"Sometimes I write about bad things, too. Not so people pity me, but so they know what's realistic," he said. "It's not always me on a treadmill. It's me having pain and not being able to go to the bathroom by myself."

After the accident

The days and weeks after Cloyd's accident were full of activity as his parents, Jim and Terri, flew to Wisconsin to be with him. Thomas worked for Epic, a medical software company based near Madison.

His parents dealt with the practical and the emotional simultaneously, arranging for home renovations and making calls to the insurance company.

"There was no time to grieve, only time to be positive and supportive," said Terri.

Soon after the accident, Cloyd began blogging, first on a site for hospitalized people and later on his own website, designed by his uncle for fundraising and so Thomas could share his progress. He estimates his blog now has between 400 and 500 followers, with dozens of comments. Occasionally, it features a friend as a guest blogger.

All the while, family, community members and friends, some from as far away as Argentina, offered their support, financial and otherwise.

"I got so many hilarious, on-the-money cards and gifts after the accident," Cloyd said.

His father's fraternity brothers donated a handicapped-accessible van to the Cloyds, and family friend Sydney Kase helped coordinate daily meal delivery to their home. Months later, those meals are still coming.

By September, Thomas had arrived at his parents' home and had begun establishing a daily routine, which now includes therapeutic massage, physical and occupational therapy, adaptive yoga and even acupuncture. He recently adopted a gluten-free diet, too.

He also finds time to socialize with friends, watching movies and hitting the occasional happy hour.

Progress toward walking

In late November, Cloyd's blog announced "some kick-ass news": doctors had upgraded the status of his injury. His spinal cord wasn't completely severed, as previously thought, and the damage now begins at his sixth cervical vertebrate rather than his fifth.

"This is cause to be happy and is significant for a few reasons. The first is in recovering both spinal cord cells and cervical health at all means that I can heal. The floodgates work. Now it's just a matter of cranking them open super wide," he wrote on Nov. 28. "The other cool thing about this is that I've come this far in only four months."

Most progress is made in the first year after a spinal cord injury, Cloyd explained, so extra effort now may pay off in the long run.

The goal of physical therapy exercises like riding an electrical stimulation bike is to "spark some neural recovery" from his spinal cord to his leg muscles, said Kristin Morgan, his physical therapist at Sister Kenny Institute.

Three times a week he also works on everyday tasks, like moving himself from his wheelchair to a mat or his bed, with occupational therapist Chris Tripp.

"Thomas has a really positive attitude and always tries to work harder," Tripp said. "He says, 'I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can, leaving no stone unturned.'"

Cloyd's eventual goal is to walk --and he wants to do it by next Christmas.

"I get this picture of myself playing basketball and hooping like crazy," said Cloyd. "But I might not be able to do that."

He might need braces or help walking, if he's able to do it at all. Until then, he tries to celebrate "little milestones" like being able to move his wrist.

His parents "do a great job of making me recognize that I'm moving forward," he said.

Sharing his story

The Cloyds want to share what they've learned from Thomas' experience.

Terri has been warning parents and kids about the dangers of diving and thinks her son "has already saved lives through his story."

Though both parents work in health care, their son's injury was overwhelming, Jim said.

One day, Terri and Thomas would like to create a brochure or "toolkit" for the families of people with spinal cord injuries.

"When someone has this kind of injury, you just dive in, no pun intended," Cloyd said. Families don't initially know that doors need to be 36 inches wide to accommodate wheelchairs, he explained, or that multiple forks are required for a restaurant trip.

His parents say that they're often approached by friends or acquaintances who comment on his blog.

Kase is struck by the honesty and optimism that Cloyd displays in his writing as well as in his everyday interactions.

"He just has touched a huge swath of the community with his blog. It's really inspirational," she said.

For Cloyd, the blog isn't so much cathartic as it is another way to remind people that he's still the same person he's always been.

"Sometimes I have to run over somebody with my wheelchair or say something dirty to get people to say, 'Okay, he's still all there,' " he laughed.

Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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