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Paraplegic science teacher in need of new ADA van

Posted at 11:53 AM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 16:54:43-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Horrific car crashes can be life-altering and prevent people from ever going back to work again. But, one valley teacher is proof that you can overcome a bad crash and bounce back stronger.

Thomas Draa always knew he wanted to be a teacher.

"It’s always the job I wanted and just to have it and be able to keep it," said Draa.

Draa just didn't know his career in the classroom would one day save his life.

"My buddy ran a red light and hit a tour bus and I didn’t have my seatbelt on. I pretty much went flying through the front driver and passenger seats and dashboard and broke my neck," said Draa.

The brutal accident in 2005 left Mr. Draa paralyzed and his doctors doubting whether he would even survive.

"At that point, with being paralyzed, I don’t really know if i wanted to make it. That’s the good part about having this job. i mean this job totally made me want to keep going," said Draa.

Fueled by his students and his love for teaching, Thomas rehabbed and recovered as quickly as possible, and was back at school months before anyone ever expected.

I had to go back to work. I just knew being around kids again would make my life more normal," said Draa. "Kids are great. Kids don’t see a wheelchair, necessarily. Kids just see another annoying teacher, you know?

Now, nearly 15 years later, Mr. Draa is facing a new challenge: a failing, 15 year-old van with a faulty door.

"Last year, I missed a bunch of school because I couldn’t really go anywhere. I'd go out to get my van and the van door wouldn’t open. It would be broken or I’ve been stuck in my van. I’ve been stuck in my van here. I've had to call the secretary to be like, 'Hey, Carol. I’m stuck in the van,'" said Draa.

But now, the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation wants to help Mr. Draa get a new set of wheels by contributing $7500 to a new ADA van. Then, Mr. Draa will be able to continue to inspire the students and staff at desert oasis high school without worrying about how he will get to and from school.

"He’s one of my heroes. He gets up and goes to work and I wish I would feel the same way because I think not many people necessarily like going to work and he does," said Bryanne Crisp, Draa's niece and former student.

"I’ve never met anybody who has as much perseverance as him. Like you’ve heard, he never complains. But, he always tries to brighten everyone else’s day, even though he’s having a bad one," said Cheryl Dewitt, a forensic science teacher and a longtime coworker of Draa at Desert Oasis High School.

13 Days and Knights of Giving is sponsored by Vegas Golden Knights Foundation, Subaru of Las Vegas and America First Credit Union.