It’s been an exciting few months for Thomas Smith of Marblehead, months he could not have imagined as he was recovering from three separate paralyzing accidents — two playing hockey and one car crash. He was even told by doctors that he would never walk again.
But in September, he walked, with forearm crutches, down the aisle as he married the love of his life at Abbot Hall. And in October, he and his foundation donated $100,000 to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
“The research will help restore hand function to people paralyzed from the neck down,” Smith told the Current.
The Thomas E. Smith Foundation has donated $1.25 million to people around New England living with paralysis since it launched in 2019.
Jake Thibeault is one of those people. As a student at Milton Academy, Thibeault was paralyzed in a hockey accident at age 18.
“He broke his neck,” Smith said. “We did his whole home modification, working with a design team, an architect and contractors. We bought him an FES bike, too.”
FES bikes are stationary bikes with a computer that supplies the electrical impulses for a patient who is undergoing therapy.
“It made a tremendous tremendous difference just having Tom as a mentor,” Thibeault said. “And he helped me get equipment that will help me get closer to walking again. It was truly amazing.”
Thibeault now serves on the foundation’s board.
Smith’s foundation partners with the Boston Bruins Foundation, raising money and awareness for the paralysis community.
“That’s how we got hooked up with Zdeno Chára,” Smith said.
Chára and Smith recently attended the Great Sports Legends Dinner in New York City, where they delivered the $100,000 check to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
“It was the largest singular paralysis fundraiser held anywhere in the U.S. in a single day,” Smith said.
Smith grew up playing hockey and hoped to go pro. Then, on Aug. 2, 2008, he was paralyzed in a hockey accident.
“Doctors said I made a one-in-a-million recovery,” he said.
They cleared him to play again.
He was injured a second time in October 2009.
“The doctor said I had a better chance of winning the lottery five times in a row” than being reinjured, he said.
Smith was paralyzed from the waist down and spent months in the hospital.
Out of the hospital, Smith and his father were driving to a physical therapy appointment on Jan. 11, 2010 when their car was struck by a distracted driver at Bell Circle in Revere.
“I didn’t walk for almost three years,” Smith said.
But he never gave up, enduring grueling physical therapy and workouts. He can now walk using forearm crutches.
“The paralysis is in my right leg,” he said. “By the grace of God, I made another one-in-a-million recovery.”
Passion and purpose
Smith’s foundation has grown well beyond anything he ever could have imagined, he said.
“I tell people the first 20 years of my life was all hockey,” he said. “When that got ripped away, I had to find my purpose.”
Smith continued, “The first 20 years, I lived with a passion and the last 14 years I have lived with a purpose… to do something greater than myself and make a global impact on something we need to find a cure for, which is paralysis.”
To learn more about the Thomas E. Smith Foundation, visit thomasesmithfoundation.org.