Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and in this season of giving thanks, Tommy Wheeler says what he appreciates the most are his four children: daughters Trinity and Tatum and sons Gavin and Carson.
“I’m used to seeing my kids every day, being around me all the time,” he said.
“My kids are what I miss the most. Right now, I only get to see them once or twice a week because of their busy schedules."
"That’s definitely what I miss the most.”
Wheeler, who lives in Pilot Point, suffered severe injuries in a car wreck south of Pilot Point on Sept. 14 and has been hospitalized since. Dave Wheeler, Tommy’s brother, has been looking after Tommy’s children, driving them to school and activities.
During an interview in his Medical City Denton room last Friday, Wheeler said he looked forward to going to a rehab center soon or his injuries.
“I would like to be out by Thanksgiving, but if not, I’m sure somebody will bring me a big plate of Thanksgiving along with my kids, and that would be a great Thanksgiving,” he said.
Wheeler, a youth football coach in Pilot Point and the shop manager at Sturm Welding in Pilot Point, has endured five surgeries, a punctured lung and a partial left leg amputation after a head-on collision on U.S. 377 put him in the hospital. His right arm has lost a little range of motion.
He was in a coma for 2½ weeks when he first arrived at the hospital and he was “day to day” at some point.
Fundraisers were held in Pilot Point to help Wheeler defray expenses.
“I would just like to say how humble and grateful I am for the outpouring that my town showed me,” he said, adding he especially appreciates the help of Paul Dennis and Greg Evans.
Wheeler said coaching football is just his way of helping the community, and said “there are lots of people that do a lot more than I do and deserve more gratitude.” He said he was ready to go to a rehab center after his two-month stay at the hospital.
He takes pain meds on a regular basis and said his healing is “coming along real good.” “If you ask anybody, I’ve had a positive attitude the whole time,” he said. On Sept. 14, a 2014 Ford Fiesta passenger car, driven by David King, 28, of Collinsville, was traveling north in the southbound lane and struck a 2005 GMC Sierra pickup, driven by Wheeler, who was traveling southbound, Pilot Point police said. The debris from the impact hit a third vehicle, a 2013 GMC Sierra pickup, which was following the Fiesta and going north. Bryan Carter, 25, of Lake Dallas was in the third vehicle.
Both King and Wheeler were airlifted to hospitals, with Wheeler transported to Medical City Denton. “I remember seeing headlights coming at me, so I headed for the ditch, and that car hit me right on the front corner and crushed the floorboard up to the dashboard and that’s what caught my foot,” Wheeler said. “The cab of the truck flipped over, and when it landed, the cab was upside down and I was halfway sticking out the rear cab of the pickup when I hit the ditch.”
Police Officer Nick McGregor was the first on the scene and was a calming presence, Wheeler said. “I owe him a debt of gratitude, because to hear his voice, I knew I was alive,” he said. Wheeler remembers dropping off his son at football practice at Pilot Point Selz Middle School just before the wreck.
“Thank God he wasn’t with me,” he said. Wheeler also remembers being in the emergency room and hearing the doctor say he was going to have to amputate his foot. “That hit me like a ton of bricks,” he said.
Wheeler, who has coached youth football for nine years, has had many visitors, including youth football players. Customers of Sturm Welding also have dropped in to see him.
On this Friday, high school classmates Leslie Lynn and Elizabeth Burt were with him. “We had a lot of kids were coming through, and that really boosted my spirits,” Wheeler said.
“And seeing my kids – that’s what I look forward to. That’s the reason that I’ve been able to keep a positive attitude because I get to see my kids and eventually I get to go home to see my kids. That’s my driving force.”
Wheeler said he enjoyed seeing his son Gavin dress up in his Sturm work clotthes on Halloween. Gavin dedicated his 2017 football season to his dad. Looking ahead, Wheeler hopes to go back to work in the next month or so, but his return depends on his rehab.