Foundation grant to boost former officer's rehab
Now four years since his near-fatal injury on the job, Tom Wagstaff continues to hit his rehabilitation sessions hard.
Sometimes he does two sessions in a day – two-a-days, as his wife Stacy says – and then crashes at home, but generally he does five sessions.
The former Independence police officer is starting to gear up for an intensive, nine-week program at Adaptive Training in Carrollton, Texas. His time there is possible thanks to a $10,000 donation from the Independence Police Foundation, a nonprofit formed last year and led by former IPD Chief Gary George.
The Wagstaffs leave for suburban Dallas in late August, and Tom says his goal by the time he finishes in early November is to be walking aided solely by a walker or cane and no human help.
“I’ve seen plenty of videos of people there who haven’t walked for years, be able to walk,” he said. “I’ve been excited ever since I saw it.
“I was told about it by my current rehab coach. The camaraderie and the family atmosphere, everybody helps each other. Each participant has their own trainer.”
“We went down to Dallas on a getaway trip and went in during one of their classes,” Stacy said of Adaptive Training. “His eyes just lit up, and he fell in love with it.”
Wagstaff was gravely injured in March 2017 after he and several other officers responded to a burglary and kidnapping call at an Independence home. When the two burglars used the victim’s vehicle to fleet, Wagstaff was among the officers right outside the garage, and a freak, impossible-to-replicate ricochet from gunfire hit Wagstaff in the head.
The two burglars and two other accomplices were quickly arrested and eventually convicted and now sit in state prison.
Emergency surgery, and a difference of less than an inch in where the bullet hit in the forehead, saved Wagstaff’s life. The bullet remains lodged in Wagstaff’s head, as doctors determined it would be too dangerous to remove, and the officer went through rehab in two facilities in Nebraska before returning home to great fanfare in December 2017. He officially retired the following October.
Lately, with his local rehab, Tom said he’s been out of his chair more working his lower body. The biggest area of progress, he said, is “being able to stand on my own with a little assistance and just overall endurance and stamina.”
Stacy said she’s seen her husband’s confidence grow in the last few months.
“In the past he would walk with walker leaning far forward,” she said, “We’ve focusing on smaller balanced steps, taking steps and being more secure on his feet.”
The Wagstaffs will be able to take Tom’s service dog Tari, who joined the household just as the pandemic broke in the U.S. last year. Tari’s chief task, Tom said, is to retrieve items he’s dropped. Stacy said he’ll hear a dropped item while asleep in another room and rush to pick it up.
“He can open and close doors for me, and he’s a very good emotional support animal,” Tom said. “I was able to come off one my mood stabilizer medicines.”
Stacy said the dog will play with their sons like any regular pet but knows to shift to service when needed.
“He can sense our moods,” she said. “He can come up and love on him and make him feel better. When he’s home, he’s just a dog, but once his vest his on, he knows he’s working.”
Chief George worked in IPD for more than 30 years before leaving in 2001 for a chief job in Alpharetta, Georgia. He retired from there in 2016, and during that tenure he helped start a non-profit foundation to assist public safety efforts. A couple years ago, Independence Police Chief Brad Halsey asked George if he could lead a similar foundation effort here, to help fund programs, equipment and training not covered by city revenue sources, and also to support officers and employees in emergency circumstances.
That work started a year ago in January, George said, and the pandemic delayed things a bit as they organized a board of directors and obtained 501(c)3 designation and recognition from the Missouri secretary of state’s office. The Independence Police Foundation officially started in the fall, and through a board member’s company made an in-kind donation of 620 COVID-19 test kits for city employees and their families, which saved the city about $75,000. The foundation is helping with some security measures at the mall, George said, and the Wagstaff gift is its first big monetary donation.
“I put my heart and soul into it, and I want to give back to the city that gave me a really good career,” George said.
The foundation saw the Wagstaffs’ hope to visit the rehab facility in Texas and their attempt to raise funds, and that became an ideal way to help.
“What a story; four years ago they told his wife to prepare for a funeral, and he’s still going strong,” George said. “If he can complete that program and be able to stand unassisted and be able to walk, that would be a miracle.”