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Terry Fox student isn't letting loss of his arm get in the way of drumming dreams

Jack Thomas, a Grade 12 student at Terry Fox secondary, sat down at a drum kit in the school's music room last week and played a Blink 182 song he'd thrashed out many times before. This time, however, he was doing it with just one arm.
Jack Thomas
Jack Thomas

Jack Thomas, a Grade 12 student at Terry Fox secondary, sat down at a drum kit in the school's music room last week and played a Blink 182 song he'd thrashed out many times before.

This time, however, he was doing it with just one arm.

It had been only 11 days since a workplace accident severed most of the 17-year-old's right arm but the loss has been a mere detour for the young musician where most others would see a career-ending roadblock.

Moments after waking up from surgery to discover doctors were unable to re-attach his arm, Thomas was reaching out to his teacher, Steve Sainas, to tell him he would still be performing the 20 sets he'd booked for the January 2016 Rock the Fox show.

Jack Thomas

Less than two weeks later, Thomas used his first day pass from the hospital to visit the school and surprise his Rock School classmates — and to prove that his injury wouldn't keep him from playing the drums.

"The vibe in the room was indescribably positive," said Sainas. "He grabbed the sticks and got behind the kit with his band — I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He sounded like an able-bodied drummer with four limbs. He was doing stuff with one arm I could only dream of doing."

Thomas hadn't wasted any time while he was recuperating in the hospital. In between visits with swarms of friends and family, the teen, who has been playing music since he was about nine years old, had been visualizing how he could use his remaining hand to elicit the same sounds he used to produce with two.

"Losing my arm is definitely a devastating thing but it's not hindering me — it's a challenge," Thomas said from his room at the G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver.

It helps, Thomas said, that his drumming style had been open-handed instead of crossed, like most drummers, "so my left hand is just as strong as my right hand was."

But it also helps to be buoyed by an outpouring of support, he added.

"I'm doing just fine. I honestly have the best friends and the best family support in the world," Thomas said. "Everybody has really been there for me."

Just days after the accident Thomas' friends had put together an Indiegogo fundraising page to help his family. About two weeks later, the page has already garnered more than $12,000.

"His friends have been outstanding," said Thomas' mother, Nancy Thomas. "I've known his friends in casual conversation… but since he's been in the hospital, I've gotten to know them on a deeper level and they're just amazing people. The support we're getting, I've never seen anything like this."

She credits that outpouring from friends, family and even teachers for her son's ability to maintain a remarkably positive outlook in the face of his new reality.

"His attitude is, 'This isn't going to keep me down, let's move forward, let's just figure it out, I got this,'" she said, marvelling. "The support… has been monumental in assisting him to cope, in assisting all of us to cope."

Jack Thomas

Sainas, who attended the Juno awards in the spring to collect the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year award, is also working behind the scenes — and hitting up some of his music industry contacts — to help Thomas.

A late fall concert is in the works to raise money for Thomas to attend Nimbus, a recording arts school in Vancouver, and Sainas has been researching the drum kit used by Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, who lost his arm in a vehicle accident but continued to play with a specialized kit.

Meanwhile, Thomas is determined to be back home by the middle of October, back to school and "regular life," he said.

Having mastered the tasks of everyday life sans a limb — showering, shaving, dressing, eating and, perhaps most importantly for a 17-year-old, communicating via social media — within short order, Thomas is looking forward to being fitted with a prosthetic arm.

And he's even more keen to test his mettle against the legendary Def Leppard drummer.

"Any drummer is inspired by what Rick Allen has done but it's opened up my mind to how strong he was as well," said Thomas, adding he'd be looking to Allen's story for inspiration and guidance as he navigates a new path as a musician with one arm.

And he's determined to succeed.

"If [Rick Allen] can do it and get famous, so can I."

• The fundraising page for Jack Thomas is at www.indiegogo.com; enter "Lend a hand to help get Jack back on track" in the search bar.

spayne@tricitynews.com
@spayneTC