Matthew Thomas - Founder
Twenty years ago, Matthew Thomas probably would not have imagined trying to start a non-profit organization with the prospects of raising awareness and support for people with disabilities. At the time, he was fresh out of high school with a football scholarship to Brigham Young University (BYU). He was nineteen, living on his own, and living the dream with a job at Candid Camera. In June of 1991, he made the decision to ride in the passenger seat of his intoxicated friend’s Volkswagen Beetle. That night, the two boys were in a serious accident that left the driver with a broken leg, and landed Matt in the hospital in critical condition. Doctors had to break the news to the young man’s family and friends that he was in a coma and left with just a 5% chance of living. They were told to not expect very much out of Matt for the rest of his life. In fact, Matthew was not even expected to be able function on his own after that night, if he ever did come out of the coma.
He was in critical condition and in a coma for three months. Although family and friends were grateful for the news of him coming out of the coma, they knew that there was still a long road ahead of them. Matt wasn’t even able to think on his own yet. He spent another month in the hospital before returning home, only to face a 12-month in-house head injury program through Northridge Hospital called the TGI Care House. At the time, he still could not read, write, shave, shower, or dress on his own. These were all skills that he had to re-teach himself.
Before long, Matt was beginning to feed himself, talk, and even start to walk again. After much faith and determination, Matt surprised even the doctors with the progression of regaining his abilities.
Two years later in 1993, a neighbor, Jim Raué, bought two hydrobikes: basically, a transitional bike used to pedal on water. He gave Matthew the task of cleaning them. What may sound like an easy responsibility was actually a lot for Matt to take on, considering his balance was still coming back to him slowly. Matt recalls that he would have to use only his left hand when cleaning them, which made the task long and tedious, but in the end gave him a proud sense of accomplishment. Without even realizing it, Matt started to multi-task, something that he wasn’t able to do in the past two years. Eventually, new skills were being developed: organization, concentration, attention to safety, endurance, independence, time management, stamina, and memory development, to list a few.
Ultimately, cleaning the hydrobikes led to riding them. Matthew was experiencing new things with his body that he hadn’t felt since his accident. He admits that riding the hydrobikes gave him a sense of accomplishment that he wasn’t expecting.
Meanwhile, as the years progressed during his recovery, Matt became an advocate for not only the consequences of intoxicated driving, but also the support that disabled people need in order to improve their quality of life. He spends his time giving speeches about drinking and driving in schools and trying to get through to people before they could potentially make the same mistakes he did.
Our mission is to create awareness within the health care and education professions that anything is possible. People with disabilities do not need to be fixed, they just need to be enhanced. With our belief that people with disabilities should participate in their community and be valued as productive members of their society with feeling a sense of accomplishment, we could provide a positive life outlook. With activity in a natural environment, hydrobiking is a new type of stimulant that can help motivate people even more that they can do things, such as riding a bike on water, which may have seem impossible before.
With Matthew as our inspiration and founder, Positive Matters is working to help show disabled people that they can be their own self-advocate and improve their quality of life.
Mauro Zappaterra, MD, PhD
Mauro Zappaterra graduated from Harvard Medical School and is currently a medical resident in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the UCLA/VA program interested in all rehabilitation efforts in maximizing human functional capacity and improving peoples quality of life.
Pho Sho... Limpin' Ain't Easy!
Matthew's pre-trauma photos: