On a summer night in 2013, Thad Dent was in a motorcycle accident just a few blocks away from a friend’s house. The trauma left him with no memory of the accident and a spinal cord injury at his C6 vertebrae. When he woke up the ICU, he learned he was paralyzed from the chest down. After more than six weeks in St. Anthony Hospital’s ICU, Thad was transferred to Craig Hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program where he would stay for the next three months.
During his intensive inpatient therapy at Craig, Thad began to regain strength, abilities and daily living skills. His care team worked with him on a list of goals during his time at Craig, and he came back to them with a full page of things he wanted to accomplish.
“I was a mechanic before my injury, so not being able to use my hands was a big thing; I wanted to come up with as many things as possible using my hands. That’s where everything started with me,” Thad says. “Most of my goals had to do with learning how to do the small things because I figured learning how to do the small things would lead into learning how to do the bigger things.”
At Craig, he learned how to become more independent in his daily life, advocate for himself, and access resources that would help him reintegrate into his community. After he completed his inpatient rehabilitation, Thad went to live with his parents in Delta, Colorado, but he struggled with the loss of some of the independence and self-sufficiency he had when he lived in his own house in Denver. After nine months on a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) waiting list, Thad was assigned an apartment in Delta where he was able to practice his independence again. With just a few hours of attendant care in the morning, Thad was able to once again take care of himself. He took over his own cooking, cleaning and more, with the help of a tendon transfer surgery that allowed him to use his right hand again for grasping.
“I do cook for myself. I also clean and have housekeeping that comes to help me with laundry and do more cleaning. I still surprise everybody with what I do because I'll do some sweeping and sweep into the dustpan. I have a grabber that I use to put everything away,” Thad says.
Each year, Thad goes back to Craig for an Interdisciplinary Outpatient Evaluation (IOE), picking up more skills with each visit to remain independent and grow toward his goals. In 2014, Thad met with Craig’s Community Reintegration Program team and learned about resources in his community, like the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). He applied for DVR services and was able to get his own van after he earned his driver’s license in Craig’s Driving Program. Now, he could get back to more of the things he enjoyed: visiting his family, going to see movies, participating in community events and getting back to work.
“Without Craig, I would have never learned about the DVR, which was extremely helpful to me because it got me a van and back to working again,” Thad says. “I was able to consider a place to work that was not on an easy, direct bus route - and then at night, the buses stop running at a certain time, so it also opened up the hours that I could work. Learning about the DVR and going through the Driving Program with Barry at Craig was extremely helpful to becoming confident to drive again.”
When an opportunity came to transfer to an accessible apartment in Denver, Thad took the chance to return to where he was raised and resided before his injury and began working with Craig and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to return to work.
A DVR job coach helped him make his resume, put in applications and prepared him for his first interview since his injury. Being a highly specialized ASE Master Tech mechanic with an advanced L1 accreditation, Thad wanted to get back into the auto repair field; he applied for a job at O’Reilly Auto Parts and was offered the position in July 2018, nearly five years to the day since his accident.
When Thad accepted the job offer, Craig’s Community Reintegration staff worked closely with his employer and the DVR to assess his workplace and make recommendations to adapt Thad’s workspace to his needs, like adding a trackball mouse at his computer, moving a register from underneath the counter to make room for his power wheelchair to roll under and creating a plan to work with his teammates to occasionally access items out of his reach. All in all, Thad found he could retrieve most items in the store for his customers and was able to use his master mechanic expertise to assist both his customers and his coworkers.
“I was just excited to get back to work,” Thad says. “My store in particular has been very well-receiving of me. Everybody that I've worked with is really great, very helpful. They see my knowledge and will ask me for my technical skill help. Since I've been back, I've had several reviews, which I've gotten really good marks on.”
Thad says he’s glad to be a part of a team and enjoys having workplace camaraderie once again.
“I think it's important for you to have those relationships at work because those friendships you make at work, they also can transpire over into your personal life,” Thad says. “Craig did a good job with encouraging me to talk with other people and not just stay confined in my own bubble. Craig really does want you to get out and be part of your community again, and so they are trying to help you get back to, I guess, a new normal.”
Today, Thad is independent and thriving, able to drive himself to his work at O’Reilly Auto Parts and participate in his community on his own terms. He is a part of Craig’s Peer Mentor Program and still regularly keeps in touch with his Community Reintegration Program staff.
“Craig built a great foundation for Thad as an inpatient, then provided him the resources he needed to meet his independent living and work goals. He benefitted from Craig’s expertise and resources and worked through becoming more independent,” Craig Community Reintegration Supervisor Tiffany Heck says. “Thad took initiative and resources and did something amazing with them. He also continues to participate in programs at Craig to give back. Thad is a testament to others in how he set his mind to his goals and worked hard to achieve them. He’s a true role model!”