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Fuzzy Zoeller & Thomas-Bonus

December 1, 2013 on 4:33 am | In Dream Books | No Comments

Back on Course

In 2008, nine-year-old Thomas Bonus was nearly paralyzed during a diving accident. Today, he’s a healthy, active 12-year-old who loves golf—and who recently caddied for golf legend Fuzzy Zoeller at The Principal Charity Classic.

By Linda Pixley

That day – July 1, 2008 – started out like any other summer day for the busy Bonus family of West Des Moines. As usual, Cyndi Bonus drove her kids, 13-year-old Robbie, nine-year-old Thomas and four-year-old Katie, to Des Moines Golf and Country Club for their daily swim team practice.

At the pool, Thomas mounted the starting block to practice the relay. When his relay teammate touched the edge of the pool beneath him, Thomas, dove in—just as he’d done dozens of times before. But this time, something went wrong, and Thomas hit his head on the bottom of the pool.

Cyndi looked over to see Thomas floating face down in the water. The sight was every parent’s nightmare. At that moment, Thomas says he was conscious but couldn’t move his limbs. “It felt like it was a dream,” he explains.

The coaches acted quickly, bringing Thomas to the surface and stabilizing him with a backboard until an emergency medical services (EMS) team arrived. “Thomas was breathing fine, but he couldn’t move his limbs for several minutes,” said Cyndi. “It was very frightening.”

Thomas was taken by ambulance to Blank Children’s Hospital, where physicians and nurses were ready and waiting for him to arrive. “Our team begins mobilizing immediately when we receive a call from EMS about a pediatric trauma patient,” said James Swegle, MD, trauma medical director for Iowa Methodist and Blank Children’s Hospital.

Thomas was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Blank. He was put in a neck brace, and while he began to move his legs later that day, he had terrible pain—followed by numbness—in his arms. In fact, the pain was so severe that he laid in the hospital bed with his arms supported on pillows and “would get very mad if someone slightly jarred the bed,” said his dad, Ken Bonus.

After several tests, including computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, physicians determined that Thomas had fractured the fifth and sixth vertebrae in his neck. At that point, doctors weren’t sure how much—if any—movement Thomas would regain in his arms.

For that reason and many others, those first days were particularly tough for Thomas and his family. “Thomas couldn’t have any food, water, ice chips or anything else by mouth because of the risk of him choking or ingesting something into his lungs and complicating things,” said Ken. And Thomas continued to experience intense pain in his arms.

Fortunately, the hospital’s Child Life staff, who help kids (and their families) deal with hospitalizations, were there to help the Bonuses during those rough days. For instance, when the cards and letters from friends and family started pouring in, Thomas couldn’t see them unless they were held right in front of his face (he couldn’t move his neck or his arms). So the Child Life team hung his cards from the ceiling over his bed so he could see them.

After five days, Thomas was fitted with a halo vest—a piece of equipment that keeps the head and neck immobile. “We were all very scared and nervous when the halo was attached,” Cyndi says. The procedure to attach the halo vest went well, though, and Thomas’ intensive rehabilitation—which lasted for nearly two years—began.

Specially trained pediatric physical and occupational therapists worked with Thomas to help him regain strength and balance, particularly since the halo vest added considerable weight to his upper body. “We learned that we use our heads for balance to walk upright,” says Ken. “Thomas was unable to move his head due to the halo, so he had to learn to adjust his upper body from the waist to balance.”

Therapists continued to work with Thomas on relearning how to perform simple actions of daily life, such as eating or scratching his nose, until he was discharged on August 6, 2008. He was still wearing the halo when he returned to school at Jordan Creek Elementary in West Des Moines later that month. “I was excited, but I was also scared of what people would think,” Thomas says.

The Child Life team stepped in again, sending a specialist to meet with teachers and students at his school. “They explained to the kids that Thomas would look different. They talked about the halo vest and even brought a weight filled with sand to show everyone how heavy the vest was,” says Cyndi. That helped the kids understand what Thomas was going through. As a result, his transition back to school went smoothly.

Thomas wore his halo for nine weeks and a neck brace for an additional two months, and he continued to perform rehabilitation exercises at Blank and at home for nearly two years. And while contact sports—such as football—are off-limits to Thomas for now, he can play soccer, swim and golf.

In fact, it was his love of golf that helped him meet a world-famous PGA Champions Tour golfer last summer. It all happened through Blank Children’s Hospital and The Principal Charity Classic, the PGA Champions Tour golf tournament held each year in West Des Moines.

Blank is one of five charities that receives donations from the tournament. The hospital uses part of its tournament funding to support the same Child Life program that was such an important resource to Thomas and his family in the weeks and months following his accident.

So when tournament organizers learned of Thomas’ accident and the role Blank played in his amazing recovery, they decided to do something special for Thomas—arrange a one-on-one golf lesson with one of his idols, golf legend Fuzzy Zoeller.

Zoeller worked with Thomas for nearly an hour during a break from The Principal Charity Classic’s Pro-Am last summer, chatting and joking as the pair worked on Thomas’ game. He even teased that Thomas should caddy for him during the 2011 Pro-Am.

Thomas figured Zoeller was just kidding, but all the same, he didn’t forget about the possibility of caddying for Zoeller as the 2011 Principal Charity Classic approached. As it turns out, neither did Fuzzy. And shortly before this year’s tournament, Thomas got his wish.

On June 1, Thomas caddied for Zoeller (along with the help of Zoeller’s professional caddy) for the full 18 holes of play during the Wednesday Pro-Am. He was a little nervous beforehand, according to Cyndi. “He wanted to make sure he did everything right,” she said.

Of course, the outgoing Zoeller immediately put Thomas at ease. “Hey there, Thomas!” Zoeller boomed as he gave Thomas a hug. Zoeller spent a few minutes posing for pictures with Thomas—and then he got down to business. “Thomas, let’s work on your putting,” Zoeller said.

By the time Zoeller teed off for the day’s Pro-Am round, Thomas was all smiles. He helped with caddying duties for the full 18 holes, handing Fuzzy clubs and listening to the boisterous Zoeller banter with the other players.

For Thomas, it was the experience of a lifetime. And for his parents, it was the culmination of a long journey. “It was great to see Thomas out there enjoying this incredible opportunity,” said Cyndi. “He’s been through so much. We’re just so thrilled that he’s healthy and that his life is back on course.”

More than a golf tournament
Thomas Bonus isn’t the only child to benefit from The Principal Charity Classic’s donations. In fact, over the last four years, the tournament has raised $2.3 million for local children’s charities, benefitting thousands of central Iowa kids.

The bulk of the tournament’s donations go to these five charities:
•Blank Children’s Hospital
•Bravo Greater Des Moines
•Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines
•United Way of Central Iowa
•Variety—The Children’s Charity of Iowa

In addition, the tournament brings $20.8 million in direct economic impact, according to a recent Iowa State University study to the Greater Des Moines area.

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