COUNCIL BLUFFS — Thomas Rinabarger Jr. was born a fighter.
That’s been clear since he arrived three months premature on Oct. 31, 1998, weighing only 1 pound, 11 ounces.
Small enough to fit in the palm of an adult hand, Thomas was so thin and underdeveloped that when his arm was held up, his father said he could see through his son’s translucent skin.
“We didn’t take pictures,” his father said, “because we all know what went on.”
Thomas is now a student in the 4PLUS post-high school learning program housed at Iowa School for the Deaf and a member of a wrestling team for blind and visually impaired athletes.
But back then, his future seemed far from bright.
Thomas “Tom” Rinabarger Sr. was out of the house that Halloween evening, helping a longtime friend finish putting on a roof. A finish carpenter from an early age, Rinabarger Sr. was always working with his hands.
He wasn’t drinking or using drugs that night, but he admits now that he probably would have been if he hadn’t been working; cocaine and alcohol use were a regular part of his life back then.
His pregnant companion of several years, Paige Cue (then Thompson), however, was at their home in Omaha when she unexpectedly went into labor. She had been drinking that day, thinking her habit wouldn’t have an effect until the third trimester.
“I remember yelling, ‘No, God,’” Paige Cue said. “‘This can’t be happening.’”
Her 10-year-old daughter Chelsea was at the house at the time, waiting to go trick-or-treating. Instead, she picked up the home phone and called the rescue squad.
When he came home, Rinabarger Sr. could see the ambulance and fire engine on his street from a distance. But as he got closer, his eyes were drawn to the paramedic cradling his newborn son and taking him to safety.
The baby — who would later be named after his father — was born with a variety of birth defects and medical conditions. They included significant vision impairment, cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, a condition that required a shunt to be implanted in the back of his head to drain an excess of fluid buildup in his brain.
His father soon learned this was due to fetal alcohol syndrome.
Thomas spent the next three-and-a-half months in an incubator at the hospital. Since he didn’t have a car at the time, Rinabarger Sr. regularly walked three miles from their home on the corner of 35th and D Streets to the Nebraska Medical Center to see his boy.
He didn’t know how much time Thomas would have. The night he was born, the doctor told his parents there was a 75 percent chance their son wouldn’t live through the night.
“But he did live,” Rinabarger Sr. said. “He pulled out a day, and then, the next thing you know, he pulled out two days, three days, and then it was a week. And it just kept going on and on and on, and now it’s 19 years later, and the kid is still fighting.”
When Thomas turned 18 in 2016, he and his dad baked and frosted a cake together.
There were no candles or wishes or songs, because it wasn’t made to celebrate his birthday.
Instead, the two took it to the Omaha fire station that had sent help for an emergency 18 years earlier. Thomas chose the words on the cake: “Thanks for all you do.”
“Nobody there were the ones who came out to the house that night,” Rinabarger Sr. said, “but we gave them the story, and they were so, so touched.”
At the age of 19, Thomas is an affectionate young man who has no qualms about asking for a hug the second time he meets someone. His compassion is one of the tools he uses to navigate the world. His determination is another.
Thomas, who attended Abraham Lincoln High School, is currently one of four students enrolled in the 4PLUS (Post-senior Learning for Ultimate Success) program for blind and visually impaired students based out of Iowa School for the Deaf.
It focuses on preparing students ages 18 to 21 to transition to the real world by enhancing their independence and job-searching skills. Full-time students in the program live on campus Monday through Thursday and are transported home for the weekend on Friday afternoons.
Stacey Telgren was hired in August to direct the program after 14 years of working in elementary education. She didn’t know what to expect from her new students, but she says their energy and willingness to face challenges have inspired her.
“They’ve taught me so much. It’s amazing,” she said. “You think something is going to stop them. No, they’re going to find a way to work around it and figure out how to make it work for them.”
Thomas, she says, typically takes longer to get a feel for things than others, but he never backs down.
“He contemplates it a little bit more,” Telgren said. “Whether it’s on the wrestling mat or whether it’s in the classroom, he just kind of sits back and takes it in.”
He loves playing video games, dancing and memorizing the words to Christian rock songs on the radio. He had a big graduation party last May, and now he’s in school to further his education and prepare for the next stage of his life.
But he also has issues — ranging from the physical to the mental to the emotional — that most of his peers could never understand.
Thomas wears glasses for reading and general vision, but he’s legally blind.
Although cerebral palsy primarily affects the movement and strength of his right leg, it has impacted both of them. To bring his legs into proper alignment and increase his mobility, Thomas wore obtrusive orthotic devices for many years. Even now, he sometimes uses a support cane to maneuver around campus.
Thomas has difficulty enunciating when he speaks, his ears are sensitive to loud noises, and his teeth are susceptible to chipping and breaking due to a calcium deficiency. He also has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as well as asthma.
Every traumatic incident Thomas has been through — surgeries, fights with his parents, times he’s been picked on at school — lives near the front of his memory bank.
“I’ve been through hell and back,” Thomas said while on the verge of tears. “It’s been a real struggle for me, with all my disabilities and my conditions.
“When he came into my life,” he said, pointing to his dad, “it got a lot easier. And I can get through anything with God in my life.”
After Rinabarger Sr. found sobriety, he worked his way back into the lives of Thomas and Jackson, Thomas’ half-brother. Thomas’ mother, Paige Cue, was reluctant to accept his help at first, but she eventually came to welcome his presence.
The next few years still presented plenty of challenges. It took counseling to process everything they had been through.
“Thomas and Jackson and Paige and I, we are really, really, really fortunate that we’re at this point in our lives,” Rinabarger Sr. said. “It took a long ways to get here.”
Thomas now lives with Rinabarger Sr. in an apartment complex in Council Bluffs. Cue and Jackson stay on the floor directly below them.
His parents, teachers and family members all say Thomas worries a little too much, but he remains a generally upbeat, outgoing person who is quick to forgive, always polite and honest to a fault.
He recently badgered his dad into letting him sponsor an underprivileged 9-year-old girl from the Philippines after hearing about it during a “Feed the Hungry” promotion at a TobyMac concert.
So, when his dad says Thomas would give a stranger the shirt off his back, he has reason to believe it.
While competing in the Special Olympics, Thomas once stopped in the middle of a race to help an opponent whose shoe had come off. Winning was secondary to being a good Samaritan.
“His whole life, we’ve taught him that he doesn’t have a disability,” Rinabarger Sr. said. “I say, ‘Yeah, Jack (his younger half-brother) may run faster and do things that you’re not going to be able to do, ever. You probably won’t ever be able to drive. But it’s just some things, Thomas.
“‘Thomas, there are lots of things that you can do that other people can’t do — like love people the way you do.’”
Although Thomas won’t have his diploma signed until after he finishes the 4PLUS program, he met all of the credit requirements needed to walk at Abraham Lincoln High School’s graduation last May.
As he walked across the stage after hearing his name called, Thomas said he cried a little bit.
When Rinabarger Sr. tried to thank everyone for coming to Thomas’ graduation party, he broke down, too.
“Tears of joy,” he said. “It’s been a hell of a ride.”
- Investigation Shows 6-Year-Old Damari Perry Died Of Hypothermia, Body Was Burned After He Died
- All 17 victims of Bronx apartment fire, including 2-year-old, died of smoke inhalation, NYC medical examiner rules
- Family Of 9-Year-Old Battling Leukemia Desperately Searching For Bone Marrow Donor Match, For Life Saving Transplant
- Can Estrogen and Other Sex Hormones Help Men Survive Covid-19?
- 13 Year Old Indian Girl Raped, Shot And Left To Die – VIDEO
- Census 1921 - 100-year-old secrets revealed
- Bronx High-Rise Fire: All 17 Victims Identified, Youngest Was Just 2 Years Old
- US approves Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old
- All 17 Bronx fire victims identified; youngest was 2 years old
- Internet slams step mom for leaving 5-year-old home alone when sister couldn't babysit
- Radiocarbon dating finds a Greenland shark that could be 400 years old
- 23-year-old good Samaritan saves three children who fell into an icy pond in Colorado
- Airport staff find a newborn baby boy in plane toilet bin as 20-year-old woman is arrested in connection with the incident
- What's a 70-year-old ex-Air Force colonel doing in the opposition? PSP's Francis Yuen Kin Pheng tells us.
- Mom ‘faked 12-year-old autistic son’s death and left him locked in a motel room for weeks’
- 81-year-old arrested for trespassing again on same land months after squatting accusations
- 9-Year-Old Girl From Pittsburgh Area Shares Story Of Bravery After Fighting Off Abduction At Bus Stop
- In a first, 57-year-old US man gets pig heart: A brief history of animal-to-human heart transplants
- ‘Outside, there’s coronavirus’: A Covid-positive mom on being cared for by her five-year-old
- 'Fearless' 15-year-old Aucklander dies after years of treatment for brain tumour
Not expected to survive at birth, 19-year-old now known for his determination; 'the kid is still fighting' have 1758 words, post on www.omaha.com at April 16, 2018. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.