A Kenner man, now in his mid-50s, struggles with health problems after he swallowed a deadly, destructive, common household chemical when he was a toddler.
Thomas Leggett, now in his mid-50s, lives daily doing a lengthy ritual. His life is measuring and pouring and mixing, flushing and priming and cleaning a maze of tubes.
But a surprise meeting with a nurse who helped save him as brought a bright spot to Leggett.
Leggett believes he survived to encourage others to live a life of gratitude.
It's a lengthy ritual Thomas Leggett goes through every day.
"This awesome computer, that thing talk to you like a human being," Thomas said pointing to the machine that regulates the amount that flows into the opening in his abdomen.
The computer does all the work because Thomas can't, and will never, be able to eat.
"This is my daily life and I enjoy it. Well, I came to enjoy it knowing that I can't eat again," he said.
The reason Thomas has never been able to eat, goes back to when he was only two-years-old. He was part of a big happy family from the Irish Channel. Dad worked and his mother Mary stayed at home running the household and caring for the eight children.
However, on one life-changing day, she was at Charity Hospital and had just given birth to a baby. Dad was at home with all the children. That's when he heard Thomas scream.
"He say his mouth was burning and they gave him water,” remembered his mother Mary Leggett. “When they gave him water, instead of it staying in his mouth, it went down his esophageal cord."
Thomas had swallowed one of the strongest chemicals, made to melt through thick clogs in pipes, Drano crystals. He was rushed to Charity Hospital, just floors below his mother and new baby brother. There he stayed for nearly three years. There was extensive damage from his tongue and throat, down his esophagus to his stomach and intestines.
He was alive, because the first woman surgeon in Louisiana, and first pediatric surgeon in the state, Dr. Rowena Spencer, was on staff at LSU School of Medicine. She was trained to perform a Colonic interposition, surgically taking part of Thomas' colon to rebuild his throat and esophagus that had disintegrated.
"She was also sent from God, by God, and through God because she did, the surgery that she did, wasn't performed normally back there in '65 at all," said Thomas.
Thomas recalled the horrible school time bullying and battering he endured being disfigured.
"I was called every name in the book. They used to call me fish muzzle, duck," he recalled.
Mary told how she swaddled him in hugs and love to get him to love an accept himself. She did it alone. Thomas' dad went to his grave feeling guilty over the accident.
"Well he started drinking and I would always tell him, 'Drinking wasn't the way out. Drinking wasn't going to heal our problem. You got to learn how to heal from within,'" Mary said through tears.
As Thomas and his mother told their story, someone very special was watching. Martha Meaux Genin was a senior Charity Nursing student at the time. Her ongoing sole assignment was to care for one sick little boy.
"And I was terrified to take care of him because he was such a challenging patient, Genin recalled. “My instructor assigned me to him and I grew to love him. He was precious."
Martha was astounded at the story. She thought Thomas was too sick to make it. She called the newsroom and asked for his number. Instead, we decided to surprise Thomas and set up a secret reunion now at the new hospital, University Medical Center. His mother Mary was there too.
"That's her!" Mary exclaimed when Martha came from behind the wall.
Martha went straight to Thomas and hugged him.
"I wish you were little again,” she said. “I could carry you on my hip. You don't remember me but I remember you and I've never forgotten you," she said.
Mary never forgot the young angel of mercy. Martha never forgot Thomas. Thomas was overwhelmed.
"And I loved you dearly,” Martha said with a big laugh. “You were my love. You were my little boy, and you hugged my neck."
They exchanged gifts, ones that each consider precious. Thomas a copy of his book about his ordeal, and Martha, a signed ornament resembling her Charity Nursing pin.
"I'm wearing my nursing pin,” Martha told Thomas. “This is the Charity Nursing pin. I'm very proud to be a Charity Nurse."
Thomas showed Martha how he eats through a tube. Martha explained how she fed him through a tube.
"I remember being very, very careful with that tube because I was afraid I was going to pull it out," Martha remembers.
Thomas wanted details about the late Dr. Spencer, the pioneer who saved his life.
"She was a perfectionist,” she said .”We had to keep on our toes to do everything right for her."
All these decades later, Mary told Martha how she trusted her, and that her devotion to little Thomas was a godsend to her family.
"You was with him all the time and because of you, I could go home and see about my babies," Mary said all chocked up.
"Yes, you had a bunch of them," laughed Martha.
Because of Thomas, Martha was guided into her lifelong career.
"Taking care of you gave me so much reward, that I went into pediatric nursing after that," Martha told Thomas.
Thomas also told Martha of his uncertain future. Scar tissue is building. Blockages are expanding and corrective surgery is not advised.
"It's end of life care. It's the end of the line," Thomas explained to Martha.
She advised him not to give up.
"Find other hospitals outside of Louisiana and get in touch with the department of gastroenterology," Martha recommended.
The day before this meeting, the two would have passed each other on the street as strangers. Today, it's Thomas who can't stop holding the nurse who carried him through his long, difficult journey.
Thomas has now moved back in with his mother because there were no apartments available for people with disabilities that met the hygiene standards for his condition.
Thomas' book 'The Creator-Cured Child!' will be available at the end of the month on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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