But in 2012, Thomas was hauling equipment when a mechanical failure sent him hurling down a slope at 95 miles per hour. His spine was nearly crushed in the accident, but his only permanent disability was a damaged pancreas that left him with Type 1 diabetes.
“I was introduced to a specialist and nurses who helped me understand the condition and how to maintain a good healthy lifestyle with diabetes,” Thomas says. “That’s what really got me interested in medicine. Because of the difference they made in my life, I was inspired to help others.”
So when the coal mine owners announced its closing and offered employees a job transfer or a one-time college tuition benefit, Thomas chose to consider yet another career and enter a two-year associate degree program in nursing at Vincennes University.
What nursing school was like: Because he was so much older than his classmates, Thomas became a kind of father figure and tutor to some students in his classes. While most students were just out of high school, Thomas was running a couple of businesses he owned and juggling family life with two children. “It was challenging, but probably would have been easier if I wasn’t doing so many other things,” he says. “I have a bit of attention-deficit disorder, but I made that learning disability work for me and did a lot of multi-tasking. I was definitely busy everyday from about 5 a.m. until midnight.”
His new career: Thomas was offered a nursing position in the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville a few months before he graduated in 2014 and has been working as a nurse ever since. “I love it. I am in the emergency room and so I see everything and learn something new everyday, and actually sometimes it seems every hour,” he says. “Now I focus on my patients at work, and when I’m not at work, I focus on my kids and enjoying life.”
Future plans: Thomas isn’t finished with education. He recently started an online bachelor of nursing program through Purdue University. “My goal is to be back in the classroom as a teacher someday with a master’s degree in nursing,” Thomas says. “I think even at age 55 or 60, I will still have a lot to offer.”
Advice: “Find something that you are passionate about,” Thomas says. “I was passionate about helping people, and knowing that I am going to make a difference in someone’s life today as a nurse is very important to me.”