"It was a beautiful day, and we were going to go scubadiving," said Thomas, who was 16 during the 2005 trip. But when he jumped into the water, the boat's wake dragged Thomas hard into sharp, whirling propellers.
He immediately knew what was about tohappen.
"I looked down -- my black fins were gone, and all I saw was red just everywhere," said Thomas, an athletic teen who was captain of his high school's golf team. "But I had this unbelievablecalmness over my body." His father and mother, both doctors from Chattanooga, Tennessee, jumped into action.
"All of a sudden, my 16-year old, happy-go-lucky captain of the golf team was potentiallydying," said Dr. Liz Kennedy-Thomas. She worked to stanch the blood flow from her son's legs while his father rushed the boat to shore and fetched paramedics.
Thomas was rushed to a hospital, wherehe spent the next two weeks undergoing several surgeries on what was left of his legs and, along the way, discovering what would become his life's work.
While there, Thomas visited other amputees."I just remember seeing so many kids who didn't have parents, didn't have health care," he said. "I just knew that the future was grim for them."
The top-of-the-line prosthetics Thomas wasfitted with -- the ones that helped him return to the golf links -- cost about $24,000. He learned that many insurance plans cover only about $5,000. That's especially tough on child amputees, who willoutgrow several limbs before adulthood.
"I had no clue," he said. "It's one of those things, unless you're affected by it, you just don't know."
Thomas knew he was lucky. With a financially stablefamily, he'll always be able to afford good legs. He asked his family to give a donation to help others, but ultimately, with their support, the teenager launched a fundraising foundation to...