The tree was a good fifty yards away from the house. After a day of cutting dead limbs, Tommy Van Zandt saw one last limb he wanted to cut. That decision resulted in a 15-foot fall. “My first thought was, ‘My neck is broken,’” said Tommy. Then, he became aware of paralysis of his limbs, then paralysis of his diaphragm, which allows one to breathe. His prayer: “If this is my time, I’m ready, but I want to see Robyn and the boys once more.”
Just then, his wife
He spent a month at a hospital in their hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, then months of rehabilitation in Colorado. During rehabilitation, his sister and brother-in-law moved from Little Rock to Fayetteville to care for the boys. Then came the final realization that, because of his kind of spinal break, he would be a quadriplegic.
“Honestly, God’s grace has been with me through this whole deal,” says Tommy today, with
“Honestly, God’s grace has been with me through this whole deal. My faith has gotten a whole lot deeper.”
Until the 2009 accident, he had been “an up-and-down Christian.” “My faith has gotten a whole lot deeper,” he says. “When the accident happened, God’s hand was on me immediately. I am ADD, had always been rushing around. There is no way that someone like me could be calm and peaceful in a wheelchair without God’s grace.” At night, he says, he thanks God and prays to Jesus for healing. And he is not alone. Prayer warriors, he says, abound – in Fayetteville and in Dallas.
Tommy started in commercial real estate at Transwestern in Dallas, and he still has many friends there. Thirteen years ago, he co-founded a commercial real estate company, Sage Partners, in Fayetteville. Friends in both cities have put on fundraisers to support his monthly care that insurance won’t cover. Just recently in Dallas, a “Tommy’s Nite Out” fundraiser raised over $350,000.
Why does it take so much money? Because of the caregivers. (He calls them “angels.”) He made a choice when the accident happened: “If you’re negative, you won’t last very long. No sitting in a corner watching Andy Griffith reruns for me. I chose to go positive,” he said. Today, he still practices his real estate business – and loves working “deals.” “That’s when the adrenaline flows!”
His faith and his response to this tragedy
What is his reality? All sensation is in his face and head. He can’t move – can’t even scratch his nose. But he can talk – and taste! Which, he says, is unusual for his type of injury. A typical day comprises four hours in the morning when two people clean, feed, dress him. There is a respiratory routine that “sucks junk out of my lungs.” Then one woman takes him to work, and he dictates to her. He does deals. “I’m trying to get a four-wheel drive to be able to work on a large land development deal!” Then another caregiver at night spends four more hours to get him ready for bed.
At one point, his son Ross exclaims, “I have never heard him complain once!” It was visceral – it had to come out. Robyn sat next to Tommy the whole time, her hand over his, and said, “Tommy has always put other people first – isn’t that true, Ross?” Her voice catches and Ross nods. “The caregivers want to take care of him,” she says. “He’s someone you want to be around all of the time.”
And I could see why. If you’re a little blue and want to feel better, just figure out some way to be around Tommy Van Zandt.
Flipped, Triumph Over Tragedy, not only tells Tommy’s
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