FARGO – Matt Thompson was spending a lot of time on the road – traveling back and forth between his kids here and his job in New York – when life on the road came to a screeching halt.
He was heading into Grand Forks for a date last July 12. Late that night, Thompson turned into the railroad yard and hit a concrete pylon at high speed.
Although the airbags deployed, the Fargo man wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He went around the air bags and slammed into the windshield.
Thompson sustained a broken jaw, broken tibia, a lacerated brachial artery and a spine broken in two places.
“They fought to keep him alive,” said his mother, Starla Siewert, a nurse at Essentia Health in Fargo. “How he didn’t die on the scene I don’t know – I always say he had angels there.”
A phone call from a passer-by to police probably saved his life, but it couldn’t save his mobility.
The damage to Thompson’s spinal cord meant he wouldn’t walk again. In fact, he wouldn’t feel much of anything again, from about mid-chest down, except the feeling of gratitude for being alive.
“I feel pretty good,” Thompson said from his new job at Wanzek Construction, almost a full year after the accident that stole his mobility. “I remember in rehab, you look at other people, and go, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do that.’ ”
Thompson can now sit upright in a manual wheelchair, one of his major goals during rehabilitation at Craig Hospital in Denver.
He was at Craig Hospital at the same time as Lexi Bolstad, a Fargo Davies High School basketball player who suffered a severe brain injury; Ethan Parmer, a young Fargo man whose spine was shattered in a dive into Detroit Lakes, Minn.; and Jason Larkin, a Fargo man hurt in an ATV accident last summer.
Bolstad, Parmer and Larkin turned out to be a major support system for Thompson and his family. They kept one another’s spirits up through the long months of hard physical work – five months of hospitalization for Thompson.
“Every Sunday, Steve (Parmer, Ethan’s father) would host a barbecue,” Siewert said. It gave the families a chance to trade notes on how to adapt to life after injury, and sometimes vent about their struggles.
Thompson said keeping a positive attitude is critical to getting better. He’s been diagnosed with a C2 injury, which means the spinal cord near his second cervical vertebrae near his skull was injured.
“I’ve never seen him really feel sorry for himself. He just has this determination,” Siewert said.
“Quite honestly, I’ve seen some people go through bouts of depression,” which having a peer group for attitude checks has helped stave off, Thompson said.
Much of his motivation also comes from relearning how to parent his children, now 7 and 4, from a wheelchair.
His next goal is driving again, so he can take them to swimming classes and their other activities, instead of relying on public transportation.
But while he’s ready to get a new set of wheels, Thompson is happy to stay closer to home, for now.
“I definitely do not want to be on the road again,” he said.
If you go
What: Matthew Thompson fundraiser
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: El Zagal Shrine, Fargo
Info: Lunch, silent auction and bake sale
How to help: Matt Thompson benefit fund
Gate City Bank
3909 13th Ave. S.
Fargo, ND 58103