Tom overcomes life-changing ordeal

Thomas Rout during a culinary skills workshop at Headway-Natal.

HEADWAY-NATAL’s Thomas Rout is the true embodiment of motivational speaker and leader Assegid Habtewold’s words, “The starting place for your greatness is desire. The desire to succeed, to serve others, to keep on going no matter what…”

With all that he has faced in life, Thomas refuses to let it sway him from happiness.

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He has an infectious smile and his distinct laugh can be heard throughout the local non-profit organisation’s building. It fast became his second home since the accident that changed his life forever.

“I was just shy of 17. I was at my rugby team’s captain’s house, we were celebrating the end of the rugby season and we were going to the after party,” said Tom.

The group of friends opted to travel in two separate vehicles.

He was on the back seat and was sitting on a friend’s lap. He leaned out of his window to relay a message to a friend in the other car. He described this as a near fatal mistake.

“We started moving through the intersection and were struck by a drunk driver who jumped the red robot.”

“He collided with the front fender of our car, we had more momentum because of our greater weight so we pushed his car. My head was sandwiched between the two vehicles,” said Tom.

He was hospitalised for 10 months and of that time was in a comatose state for four. He turned 17 while in a coma and quipped that he ‘wasn’t much for conversation’ at the time. He opened his eyes on 1 January in 2008, also his father’s birthday.

“My internal clock must have been working,” he laughed.

Even though he was awake, he was still semi-comatose and soon developed a code to talk to and respond to his family and friends. One blink meant yes and two blinks meant no.

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His physio started at the hospital and he remembers being placed on a tilt table and could only stand for between 10 to 15 seconds before the pain became too much for him to bear. His first word after the accident was nothing other than, “mom.”

Years later, and after countless hours of physiotherapy, hard work and an iron-clad determination, Tom is able to stand for much longer periods of time if there is something around to help him keep his balance. “I am also able to crack an egg with just one hand,” he smiled.

He was unable to finish matric alongside his peers at Kearnsey College, but this didn’t stop him from enrolling for his Grade 12 year at the Oper Air School.

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He took on seven subjects to start with but after a term and a half, his tutors could tell he was battling and dropped the subjects down to five. During the accident his temporal lobe was damaged, and it has affected his short term memory.

“My long term memory is still fine, but whenever short term things happen I will remember them in a few weeks time. This is something I have gotten used to.”

“It (matric) was difficult for sure. The best way to explain it is, you read a book and reach 80 pages and go to bed. When you wake up you have to start again from the very beginning.”

When asked how he felt when he passed matric, his face lit up. “I was over the moon!”

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He visits the gym three times a week, sees a physiotherapist twice a week and is at Headway Natal three times a week. With a busy schedule, Thomas said he finds time to enjoy his two favourite things, cooking and painting.

“Before the accident and was still at school I never took art. I didn’t even think I had an artistic bone in my body but now I can paint quite nice pictures,” said the proud Hillcrest resident.

He absolutely loves painting wildlife animals as well as pets. Kearsney College auctioned off his painting of a rhino and, when he went to accept the cheque during an assembly, graciously handed over a painting of a greyhound to the school.


A few of Tom’s art pieces are displayed in the foyer at Headway-Natal.


“They have done so much for me since my accident and I wanted to give them a little something in return,” said Tom.

The 26-year-old said his goals for the future were to get up from his wheelchair and walk, continue with his painting and be completely independent.

“People often ask me, ‘Tom, how can you be such a happy person?’ I reply by saying, ‘I don’t know how to be anything else.'”



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Lloyd Mackenzie

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