Holly Collom was only 18 years old when her baby Thomas was born. Being a mom at 18 would have been challenge enough, but Thomas was born prematurely, at just 26 weeks, and spent three months in the neonatal ICU. “The day we finally got to go home was the first of many goals Thomas and I reached together,” Collom says. “Feedings and simply breathing were a challenge, but we fought to keep him alive and growing.”
At 18 months, Thomas was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. “The doctors couldn’t tell us how or why it happened, nor could they tell us how severe his disability would be,” Collom says. “So we decided that until Thomas proved to us he couldn’t do something, we’d assume he could do anything. And that was the best decision we could have made.”
Now eight years old, Thomas goes to school in a powered wheelchair. He lost the ability to stand and walk a few years ago after hip surgery but does physical therapy daily to regain those abilities. “Thomas is amazing; he’s reached so many of his goals by being strong and stubborn,” Collom says. “He rolled over, crawled, stood, walked in a walker, learned to drive a power wheelchair. There have been times when we’ve had to start over, like after he’s had surgery or been sick, but he keeps trying. We keep trying.”
This summer, Thomas faces another surgery, this time on his feet and ankles. But despite all his challenges, Thomas is a boy like any other. He loves cars, trucks, fishing, swimming, dinosaurs, and mud. And he adores his sister, Kaitlyn, just a year younger, who slips into his room at night during storms when she knows he’s scared. “Kaitlyn is very helpful with Thomas,” Collom says. Sometimes it seems like she knows what he wants even before I do.”
Collom works for Family Voices of Minnesota’s Parent to Parent peer support program and also finds time to make sure Kaitlyn’s life is full, too. The Colloms live on a farm in rural Minnesota, and Kaitlyn is already an accomplished rider. “We go for a long ride once or twice a week and talk about nothing and everything.” Collom (known as HC 216 in Sharecare’s Daily Strength support group for caregivers says one of her biggest challenges as a caregiver is making medical decisions about Thomas’s treatment. “It can be hard to be the one to okay the ‘hurt,’ to choose which procedure or therapy to pursue and deal with the consequences, good or bad,” she says. But the hardest part, she says, is “watching Thomas work so hard to do something that others take for granted. Walking, eating, talking. There have been times when we’ve just hugged and cried together until we felt better.”
Collom looks forward to Mother’s Day, and the acknowledgement of all that mothers really do. She offers her own personal message of support to other mothers of special needs kids: “I hope your day is devoid of emergencies, that the sun shines brightly for you, and that you can laugh much, much more than you cry. You deserve it!”
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