Thomas Komor has literally been overcoming obstacles and beating the odds since birth.
Born 16 weeks premature on Aug. 29, 1994, and weighing just 1 pound 11.5 ounces, he was given a 20 percent chance of surviving. He spent 3 1/2 months in neonatal care, at one point even dropping weight. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a toddler. This is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills.
A major milestone
Thomas just graduated from East Grand Rapids High School. He said support from family and friends and his easygoing nature and positive attitude have helped him get to where he is today. He is headed to Aquinas College in the fall to pursue business and psychology.
For Thomas’ father, Christian Komor, watching his son receive his diploma was a huge moment. “It was like coming to the finish line of a long race, tired and overjoyed.”
Thomas is the recipient of the Reid Van Gelderen Memorial Scholarship, given annually to a senior who has displayed high moral character and integrity throughout his/her school career; who has practiced academic excellence, and involvement in co-curricular activities; and who has faced extraordinary adversity. He also won a $13,000 Monsignor Bukowski scholarship from Aquinas College.
Many steps along the way
His father said to appreciate how far Thomas has come, one has to understand where he started. He was never expected to walk, and a lot remained uncertain during the first years of his life. He has undergone more than a dozen surgeries related to cerebral palsy and his eyes. He had a disease of the eye affecting premature babies, and while his vision now is good, it is not binocular.
At age 8, he had major surgery at University of Michigan Hospital, which involved clipping nerves in his spine. It made a huge improvement to his mobility. He also attended the Grand Rapids-based Conductive Learning Center, which serves children with motor disorders related to complications of prematurity, cerebral palsy, spina bifida or brain injury.
“It was beyond our dreams that he would be mainstreamed into public schools,” Dr. Komor said.
But Thomas excelled in many ways. He began getting A’s and B’s, became bilingual in Spanish, learned to play the piano, acted in plays, joined National Honor Society and, as captain of the Grand Rapids Junior Pacers, helped lead the wheelchair basketball team to second place in the nation.
“We are so proud of him. He has been remarkable,” said Dr. Komor. “He does not complain about anything…He has a lot of inner strength and resilience.”
A tough road
“When I was a little kid I could barely move,” Thomas said. He recalled being frustrated on the playground when other kids would run to the swings and climb up the slides. “I would try to keep up with them, but I just couldn’t,” he said.
He now makes a point to walk as much as he can with a single cane. “Walking for me has been a process,” said Thomas, who first learned to use a “clunky walker” before moving on to crutches, then two canes and finally the one he now uses.
“As long as I keep fit I can function for a long time,” he said. “My philosophy is if I can walk around, I’m going to.”
Stretching, a balanced diet, and activity keep him going strong, he said.
“The bad thing about CP is there is no cure,” he said, noting that it doesn’t get the type of exposure or push for new research some conditions get. “The good thing is it’s not progressive. If you keep working with it, it gets better.”
A great circle of friends
At East Grand Rapids, where he has attended school since kindergarten, he said he was never the target of bullying or made to feel left out. “I’m glad that East is one of those high schools that doesn’t do that,” he said.
He said he and his friends joke around with each other a lot, and his physical disability has never been a barrier between them. “They’ve managed to see past my limitations and they are the few people that have been able to do that. They see me for what’s in my head, not what’s on display out here,” he said.
Fellow 2013 graduate Tyler Larabel said Thomas just is “one of the guys.”
“All I can really say about Thomas is he is a solid friend, a good guy. He barely pays mind to his physical disadvantage. He is definitely a very happy, easygoing type of guy.”