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Competition Among Companies Put To The Side As Industry Rallies Around A Colleague

Published by GNN. Article by IAN HUTCHINSON
Photo: Marthe Love and Brad Thomas pictured above.

The relationships one forges plays a key role to success in business, but strip away the dollars and the brand somebody represents and if those relationships become stronger, it says more about the person and the people he deals with than any bottom line possibly could.

As an ordeal faced by Brad Thomas, a popular and successful sales rep for PING in British Columbia, and his wife Marthe Love has weaved its way over the past 19 months through concern, worry, frustration, anger and more recently optimism, the outpouring of affection and concern for Thomas continued to grow.

It began on Jan. 22, 2014, when Thomas was working at home, while Love was at a nearby Home Depot arranging for new kitchen appliances.

"I had forgotten to take one measurement at home in the oven. I forgot to do the interior of the oven. I called him on his way out the door and asked him if he could go back and take one measurement for me," she recalled.

Thomas was chatting and even making some jokes when something became clear to Love.

"All of a sudden, he just started slurring and I knew exactly what it was," said Love, who told Thomas to sit down.

She was calling paramedics. He was having a stroke. She got home just as the ambulance arrived and they went inside to find Thomas on the floor.

"Everything about stroke damage is about timing, so the fact that he was on the phone with me was important and the fact that he got help quickly is important," she said.

Thomas had the stroke on the right side of his brain and was paralyzed on the left side of his body. He was taken first to Lions Gate Hospital, but was transferred to Vancouver General.

He initially underwent an angioplasty to remove the blood clots from his brain, which resulted in a massive hemorrhage. He was rushed for a craniotomy surgery, in which part of the skull is removed to relieve the swelling of the brain, and it literally came down to minutes to save his life.

Due to a serious allergic reaction to one of the drugs used during the surgery and the fact he contracted pneumonia in post-op recovery, a tracheotomy was performed for direct access to his windpipe to help Thomas breathe.

One of his first specialists recommended Thomas go to long term care instead of a rehabilitation centre, but Love kept fighting to put him back on the road to recovery.

"I wasn't going to let (long term care) happen and I fought really hard for other doctors to agree to put the application in instead of the main specialist," said Love.

The uncertainty of it all had others wanting updates.

"From the beginning to now, there's been so many twists and turns and ups and downs. It's quite amazing how many people it's touched," she said.

"At the start, it was just family and some close friends and then I got asked to update everyone constantly because there were so many changes and it became very difficult to call everybody and talk to everyone individually, so I started sending one e-mail update," said Love.

"Suddenly, they were going to a few more people and then suddenly, they were going to 325," she added.

"It was suddenly not just a little update to a few people. It became something else, where I wanted to give them as much information as possible, while respecting Brad's privacy and being careful about what I said because I was talking about recovering from a brain injury," she said.

That wasn't the only indication Marthe would get of the widespread concern for Brad. Understandably, it was friends and family, but it also came from within the golf industry and that would become clear as he progressed.

In the meantime, the ongoing battles were private and behind the scenes.

What Thomas faced was similar to a round in which a golfer is struggling, only with much more important quality of life consequences. He wanted immediate fixes, but patience was necessary. His spirit wanted major victories, but his advances were smaller in nature, but still important because they all contributed to the final goal.

Love, as his advocate, needed to be diplomatic and polite, yet relentless, in her pursuit of what was best for Brad, who was moved to Vancouver's G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre, before transferring to CONNECT in the Okanagan, which provides specialized services for people living with acquired brain injury (ABI) such as stroke.

Thomas arrived in a wheelchair, but he was just beginning to use a walker. The mission was clear – teach him to walk again – and he began an intensive program.

"About four weeks later, he started walking unassisted, which is amazing because at the other rehabilitation place, they told him that he'd need a wheelchair full time and he may eventually be able to use a walker, but they weren't sure that would happen," said Love.

"At this new place, they pushed him and he did it in about four weeks. I remember the physio saying to Brad that, because of his lifetime of sports and a very competitive nature, it was a huge contributing factor to his success," she added.

"When you're recovering from something like this, it's the most difficult, exhausting workout of your life that goes on and on and on and on and for a lot of people, it's too hard," she said.

Typically, she added, doctors say that patients tend to make the greatest progress in the first few months of recovery, but it didn't work out that way as Brad's progress continues nearly 19 months after stroke.

"He has not slowed down at all. As a matter of fact, there's more progress now than previously, so he's atypical in that way and I think it has a lot to do with his drive and motivation and refusing to give up," said Love.

It isn't over yet. His hand is starting to respond, but more natural, voluntary movement is sought through a new therapy called MyndMove from the Canadian company MyndTec that applies Functional Electrical Stimulation in a new way to assist patients suffering arm and hand paralysis after stroke or spinal cord injury.

It isn't subsidized, however, and a golf tournament in June was organized to raise funds for therapies and other needs. It was organized by Lance Lundy of Big Sky in Pemberton, Ont., which donated the golf course that day, while other companies donated food, drinks and prizes.

It raised over $60,000, but it seemed therapeutic for Brad, even if he didn't realize it at first as he and Marthe made his way to Big Sky that day.

"He was incredibly nervous because there were over 100 participants in the golf tournament. There were also people who drove up just to see him," said Marthe.

"Brad has seen a number of friends since this happened, but to show up at a place with that many people all at once and it's all about you was nerve-wracking for him and also, he's the kind of person who is all about friendships and relationships and connections," she said.

"He's very gregarious and has a great sense of humour that he never lost, but he doesn't like the focus to all be on him," she added.

PING had set up a tent in which Brad could greet everybody and once play began, people who weren't playing took him out to the golf course to visit.

"He was out there from the beginning of the tournament, almost until the end. He just wanted to go around to every hole and say thank you to every, single person who came," said Marthe.

"At one point – I didn't get to see this and no one caught it on video, but apparently, they were on the second fairway – Brad said, `Can you stop the cart for a second?'" she added.

"He got to go out and say hi to some really good friends and he decided to jog down the fairway, which is pretty phenomenal considering four months ago, he was confined to a wheelchair," she said.

"He decided to do it on the fairway because if he fell, at least he would hit the grass. His two friends in the cart were chasing him down the fairway saying, `Oh my God Brad, it you fall, Marthe's going to kill us,'" she said.

"They got him into the cart and they brought him back. He came in and he was so tired, his legs were shaking, but he was so happy. It was awesome," she said.

It was then time for the speeches, beginning with PING president and COO Doug Hawken.

"He said that (Thomas) is the best ambassador for PING that they've ever had and an amazing friend and an inspiration to everyone," said Love.

Hawken was followed by PING Canada GM Dave Wilson.

"He talked about his relationship with Brad, how many years they've known each other, how closely they've worked together and told some anecdotes, like the trip to (Vancouver) Island on the ferry when they were disagreeing on something," she said.

"They would talk it through and talk it through and Brad being as stubborn as he is, Dave would get up and go to the other end of the ferry. Then, they'd meet afterwards and work it out," she added.

"Then, I had to get up and talk, I was just going to say something very brief about his current therapies and where the money was going and just thank everyone gratefully from the bottom of our hearts," said Marthe.

"A couple of people said to me beforehand that not everyone had read every update from the beginning.," she said.

Marthe told the details of how dire the situation was at the beginning and some of the obstacles that needed to be overcome and let everyone know that Brad had finally gotten the green light to go home in early March.

"If he hadn't have been going to CONNECT by way of the support we received, he very well might still be in a wheelchair and not able to live with his family," she said.

Once again, the affection for Brad became obvious at the tournament just the way it had when so many asked to receive the e-mail updates on his condition, but Marthe made another observation that wasn't about the numbers.

"I turned to Dave Wilson at one point and I said, `There are people here that Brad went to high school with, to university with, that he's known all his life, that he's worked with in the industry, people from the golf course that he plays at, and there are also people here from a huge number of golf companies and they're all in the same room for one cause," she said.

"That's a tribute to Brad. That's his relationship with all of these people. All of these people came because they love him," she said.

It is a tribute to Brad and his perseverance and enough can't be said about Marthe's doggedness as his advocate. PING indeed showed compassion and warmth for one of its own and for people outside a specific company who can for one day put aside brands, business and bottom lines to rally around a colleague says something about the industry in general.

It's something you see rarely in a business environment, but it's comforting to know it exists.