Bryce Thomas – a Pioneer

Bryce Thomas at the Toronto Summer Institute
Bryce Thomas at the Toronto Summer Institute

Another young friend and a great teacher — who knew how to live every day to the full.

Daryl and Janet Thomas

Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing and learning with and from Bryce these last years realize that this young man was extraordinarily gifted — in many ways. His smile could melt any glacial barrier. His unwavering energy to ‘fight the bad guys’ — as ‘Bat Man’ and more recently as ‘Hercules’ — is a lesson to all of us. Janet and Daryl are grieving the loss of their son, but they want us all to remember that Bryce’s work is not done. There are still lots of ‘bad guys.’ Bryce’s energizing force is still with us — if we listen. Bryce and ‘Uncle Shafik’ can offer support to any and all of us on this complex journey to justice for all.

For those of you who share our inspiration from Bryce, it may be important to know that this was totally unexpected. He was in school on Friday. He had an asthma-type condition and there was some concern that perhaps the drugs needed adjusting, but Bryce was living to the full until this tragedy.

Bryce Thomas

August 11, 1987 – January 20, 1999

Some of us have already seen the video of Bryce, Darryl and Joel at a the Six Flags Theme Park — flying, shrieking on the edge in the 150-foot plummet of the ride, “Dive Bomber Alley.” Bryce loved it. Most of us wouldn’t think of going that far. Bryce loved it. Bryce was loved — and is loved. He packed in a lot of living into his 11 short years. He taught us all a great deal — and his teaching will continue. The world was a better place for having Bryce among us. His vibrant spirit will live on. He inspires us to continue his/our work of building a society where ALL are welcome and everyone has friends. Bryce did. And now he is with some other old friends — Shafik Asante, Herb Lovett, Ed Roberts, Maria Galati and many more. They will be continuing their work, spiriting us on in our struggle to create a peaceful world with justice for all.

Jack Pearpoint & Marsha Forest

Bryce was born on August 11, 1987. His path through life began with difficulty, as his birth was premature. He spent the next four weeks in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, surviving one crisis after another: heart problems, lung problems, blood problems, and many others. Yet, in spite of these challenges, he survived. Life for him continued to be a struggle after he came home from the hospital. He could not eat well enough to thrive, leading to malnutrition and endless hours of crying.

After three months of pain, his doctors admitted him to the hospital to try to find the cause of his distress and relieve it. Their assessment was a crushing blow to everyone in his life: he had severe cerebral palsy. They went on to say that if he were to live he would have a very low quality of life. We were offered two options: give up on him (by putting him into an institution or by just letting him die) or help him through life as best we could.

This was the first of the many difficult decisions that we would have to make about Bryce’s care. We chose to continue our love and commitment to him by seeking out the best treatment available. This led to his transfer to Children’s hospital in New Orleans, then to a long term care facility for children with severe disabilities. For the next year and a half, Bryce and we gained strength, leading to his eventual release and return home.

Our choice to support Bryce was the most significant decision that we have ever made. It changed our lives in the most profound ways. At that point, we began a journey that would lead us to learn the real meaning of life—LOVE. Our lives came to center on his needs: therapy, medical appointments, support services –the list was endless. Nevertheless, his life filled with joy and happiness. He made friends with the best of people, and in turn, brought out their best.

Bryce’s work began at the Cerebral Palsy Center in Baton Rouge. There he received speech and physical therapy that would help prepare him for school. Their dedication to Bryce’s good set the stage for much that would follow.

His first school, named Pineridge, was a special education facility. While there, he made friends with the staff and everyone he met. This was typical of his interaction with people: his charm was irresistible.

Bryce’s next school was Doyle Elementary. Once again, he had a powerful effect on those around him: teachers, staff, students, and administrators all experienced the joy of his smile, the brightness of his eyes, the strength of his courage, and the gladness of his heart. He made good progress in school, overcoming a virtual army of barriers.

When we decided to move to Texas, our first concern was for Bryce’s well-being. Would he get the same level of support here as in Louisiana?

The answer was both good and bad. On the good side was our great good fortune to select Cleburne as a place to live. In fact, the reason we decided to move to Cleburne was because of the excellent special education program here. They have supported Bryce’s progress throughout his stay here. On the bad side was the loss of medical services we faced: Texas has very limited programs compared to Louisiana. It took three years for Bryce to qualify, only to find that many promised services were unavailable.

In Cleburne, Bryce attended Coleman Elementary. Once again, his spirit drew people to him and to each other. He continued to do well in school, consistently earning honors for his work and made many wonderful friends.

Outside of school, Bryce was active in many different advocacy efforts to help improve the lives of others with so-called disabilities. He participated in ADAPT— American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today — traveling to many meetings to show his support by his presence and by speaking out. He was also a regular participant at the Toronto Summer Institute for Inclusion, where he showed by example the meaning of inclusion and community.

Bryce touched the lives of everyone here today. He had the great gift of showing us those who really understand the value of life. The world labeled Bryce “disabled” However, those of us here know that the truly disabled people in this world are those whose hearts did not understand Bryce’s worth and the worth of others like him.

One of Bryce’s aspirations was to grow up to become a teacher like me. He did not know that the very best of what I have to teach others I learned from him: that life is about loving and sharing, not about getting and having. His legacy to us is our challenge to continue to spread this message. In a very real sense he made me who I am today. In the end, he IS the teacher he aspired to be.

By Daryl Thomas