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What love for a child can do

story by Carolina Hidalgo

On a brisk October morning, Peggy and Pat Thomas usher their son, Paul, out the front door of their two-bedroom house. Peggy reminds Paul about an upcoming doctor's appointment. She bends over to retie his right shoe and asks if he needs any pocket money.

At 6:30 a.m., a small bus pulls into the driveway and, with a half-hug goodbye, Paul clambers aboard and settles into a window seat. His hour-long ride will take him from Uniontown to Henderson for his part-time job at Old National Bank, where he's worked as a greeter for 17 years.

Peggy presses a warm cup of coffee into her hands as the bus disappears down the street.

"When Paul was born," she says. "We just never thought he would live."

In a filing cabinet at the Hugh Edward Sandefur Training Center sits an inch-thick binder of medical papers pertaining to Paul Thomas.

The most recent record describes the bubbly 51-year-old in a neat, cursive paragraph. "His diagnosis is mild mental retardation. He monitors his sugar intake due to being diabetic."

But the expressive man out on Sandefur's workshop floor joking around with the other disabled adults enrolled in the center's job program doesn't seem to notice his limitations. He chats about an upcoming Special Olympics bowling tournament. He teases friends. Sometimes he finds himself sucking his right thumb and quickly lets his hand drop.

A slew of medications keep him going. Isosorbide for chest pains. Metoprolol for high blood pressure. Metformin for diabetes. He washes them down with diet cranberry juice early each morning before his mother sets out his breakfast.

"He was a mess for a while," Peggy says. "For years, I had to keep an eye on him constantly."

But he learned to walk at age 5, started working at Sandefur at age 17, learned to read at age 30. He took up cooking classes and art classes. Peggy started letting him take the bus alone. He goes to Henderson Community College once a week to work on his handwriting

"I got him into every kind of program I could," Peggy says. "I had to turn him loose to see what he could do."


One day, Paul came home fuming. He asked his older sister Karen what the word "retarded" meant. She told him that it meant he is beautiful.

In Paul's mind, he doesn't suffer from handicaps. He can do anything that anyone else can do. When he gets his degree, he says, he's going to apply to be president at Old National Bank. Peggy says they let him keep thinking that.

"He's reaching his full potential," she says. "That's what a lot of love for a child will do."


Peggy Thomas scolds her son, Paul, after he tells her he had a baked potato during his afternoon lunch at Wendy's. Peggy spends hours looking up diabetic-friendly recipes for Paul and is disappointed when he eats things he knows he shouldn't.


A slew of medications keeps Paul Thomas going. Each morning, he washes down medicine for high blood pressure, asthma, chest pains and diabetes.


Paul Thomas follows "doctor's orders" by going for walks along his street after getting home from work. The search for pecans around a tree outside his house provides an opportunity for simple exercise.


Paul Thomas rides from his Uniontown home to his morning job as a greeter at Old National Bank in downtown Henderson.


Every Thursday, Paul Thomas takes part in a brief excersise class at the Hugh Edward Sandefur Training Center in Henderson, where he holds a part-time job as part of a program for disabled adults.


Every morning, Paul Thomas sits at a small table at Old National Bank in Henderson, working as a greeter. The job allows him to meet and interact with people from all walks of life. "Working around educated people has helped him progress a lot," says his mother, Peggy.


Paul Thomas listens in on a weekly staff meeting at Old National Bank in Henderson, where he works as a greeter. He tries to follow along as Kathy Welden runs through the previous week's banking figures.


Paul Thomas hangs out with friends at the Hugh Edward Sandefur Training Center in Henderson, where he participates in a work program for disabled adults. The part-time job allows him to spend time socializing and also provides workers breaks during which they can participate in cooking, excercise and art classes.


Peggy and Paul Thomas wait to see Paul's clinical audiologist in Evansville, Ind. Following recent trouble with his hearing aid, he is looking forward to having a new one.


Peggy and Paul Thomas discuss medical insurance issues with Paul's clinical audiologist in Evansville, Ind. The visit resulted in a new mold of Paul's ear canal — the first step to getting a more effective hearing aid.


Paul Thomas watches as his moyher, Peggy, gets cosmetics suggestions at a Macy's in Evansville, Ind.. They stopped there following Paul's doctor appointment since Peggy said she was running low on makeup.


Every morning, Peggy Thomas makes breakfast for her 51-year-old son, Paul. She keeps him company on their Uniontown porch while he waits for a bus that will take him into Henderson. To help Paul deal with his mental disability and maintain an active social life, he takes a class at Henderson Community College and works at a bank and a job center for disabled adults.