FEDERAL WAY – In his darkest moments, he reaches for the envelope tucked behind his bed. The handwritten words on three worn notebook pages offer all the comfort of a mother’s embrace.
It’s an embrace Richard “Blue” Thomas IV misses.
The letter reminds him to believe in himself, trust in his faith and, above all else, remember how proud she is to be his mom.
It says so much about Christie Thomas and her love for family, and it is always what 17-year-old Blue Thomas needs to hear.
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“Whenever I’m down and just hurting for her, I just read that letter,” he said of the message, written two years ago. “Every time, I wind up bawling, but every time I feel better.”
Thomas and his Eastlake High School football team face their biggest challenge of the season Saturday at home against top-ranked, unbeaten Camas in a Class 4A state quarterfinal football game at 3 p.m.
Some say it would take a miracle for the unranked, 9-2 Wolves to win. But that’s OK with Thomas, a junior quarterback who is the son of former Washington running back Richard Thomas III.
He has witnessed bigger ones.
Doctors call his mother’s progress miraculous after two traumatic brain hemorrhages she suffered nine months apart, the first in July of 2012. Christie Thomas, 39, continues to recover at a longterm care facility in Federal Way, and the family dreams of the day she can return to their Sammamish home.
“I play every down for her,” Blue said.
A voice from the bleachers
Blue brightens a room when he strides in, with a big smile and hazel eyes (they were blue when he was born, thus the nickname). A booming “Hi, mom!” quickly gets Christie’s attention after a tiring morning.
There’s recognition in her eyes as he bends down to hug and kiss her in the wheelchair and a quiet “hi” from the woman whom doctors said would never speak again.
“I love you, mom. Do you love me?” Blue asks with younger brother Payton, Eastlake’s 11-year-old ball boy, on his heels.
“Yes,” Christie whispers.
“Go, Blue” she often says during Sunday visits, when he spends hours on her bed telling her about his latest game and how his week went.
Christie Thomas has been her kids’ biggest fan, encouraging daughter MaRyann, 20, to pursue a singing career and cheering on the football exploits of Blue and Payton, who was named after NFL legend Walter Payton.
The star and the cheerleader
Richard and Christie were high-school sweethearts at Kentwood in Covington, where he was a record-setting running back and she was a cheerleader.
He was a year older, graduating in 1991, then played at Washington and was a redshirt freshman on the co-national championship team. They married in 1993.
Richard spent the 1996 season on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. That summer, Blue was born 7 weeks premature with a variety of health issues, including underdeveloped lungs and asthma.
He spent months on a ventilator and doctors told his parents he wouldn’t be able to run much, let alone play football. In her letter, written at the end of Blue’s freshman season at Kentwood, Christie reminds him of that story.
After shoulder injuries ended Richard’s NFL career after a year, the family moved around before returning to Covington, where Blue became the first freshman to start on Kentwood’s varsity team, as a defensive back.
But when one of Christie’s younger brothers in Sammamish suffered a stroke, the Thomases moved to the Eastside so Christie could help care for her nieces and nephews.
Blue transferred from Kentwood, where he had dreamed of breaking his father’s records, began working out during the summer and set a new goal — becoming Eastlake’s starting quarterback as a sophomore.
He was soaking sore muscles in the bathtub on July 30, 2012, when he heard a crash. Payton screamed for him, and Blue came running, wrapped in a towel.
Christie had collapsed. Call 911, she told Payton. Blue grabbed the phone and talked to paramedics, then took Payton out of the house and told him everything would be OK. Inside, Blue was terrified.
Christie was rushed to Harborview Medical Center, but the prognosis was bleak. A brain aneurysm had burst, leaving her on life support. Christie underwent several surgeries and by February she was walking and talking and almost ready to come home.
Then came a second brain hemorrhage, requiring more surgeries (she’s had 24, according to Richard). The family was given little hope for recovery.
But Christie is breathing on her own now and eating solid foods. Just like in that letter, she seems to be telling everyone not to doubt the possibilities.
“She’s my hero,” MaRyann said.
Faith, family and friends
The family has no insurance, although Richard now works full time as general manager at a fitness center in Edmonds in addition to a ministry he runs.
Medical bills have been devastating, he said, though fundraisers and donations have helped. Home health care costs are about $6,000 per month, Richard said, and he’s trying to save for a van to transport Christie.
He finds solace in his faith, family, friends and her steady improvements.
“Every day offers us extremely bright moments,” Richard said.
Blue has his days where he cries and wonders why, but football remains his escape. And she remains his motivation.
He knows she still cheers for him inside, just as he cheers for her recovery.
And, in his darkest moments, he always has that letter.
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