Sue Thomas Can't Quit Finding New Ways To Inspire
Sue Thomas scared us for a minute there.
The Society's 2007 National Conference in Dallas had been a smashing success: More than 1,000 attendees, tons of information, food and drink with friends, a new source of inspiration every time you turned around.
Then Sue took the stage. Sue has been profoundly deaf since childhood, but some of us in the audience doubted our own hearing. Did she just say… she quits?
That's exactly what she'd said. That she was quitting as a National MS Society Ambassador, and appointing herself an MS Warrior — that's how mad MS makes her!
Sue had our attention. Which shouldn't have surprised us. Gaining attention for important causes is one of the many things Sue does well.
Rebounding from that terrifying day at the age of 18 months she suddenly lost her hearing, Sue went on, at 7, to become the youngest Ohio State freestyle figure-skating champ ever. She earned a bachelor's degree and went to grad school. And she went to work for the FBI, conducting surveillance by reading lips.
It was this experience that made Sue the inspiration for the PAX TV show Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, which aired from 2002-2005. Sue was played by Deanne Bray, who is also deaf.
Adding yet another personal victory to her repertoire, Sue recently rejoined the speaking circuit after taking a hiatus due to failing eyesight. For an expert lip-reader, low vision is like going deaf all over again. It also meant she couldn’t drive, and had to use a wheelchair because her balance deteriorated.
She melted down one day in 2008. “I started crying,” she recalled. “I had a conversation with the Creator of life and I said, ‘You know, I never complained when I got my deafness. When I got MS, I didn’t complain. But now my vision’s gone and it’s just too much. To be deaf and now blind, I just can’t do it.’”
Deborah Shofstahl, a registered nurse who is Sue’s assistant and travel companion, suggested a visit to the eye doctor. Turned out that part of the issue was MS, but part of it was cataracts. An operation was scheduled, and Sue now sees 20/20 out of both eyes — though she continues to experience double vision and waves of cloudiness due to the MS.
“My vision was everything for me and I was able to get it back. This has brought a whole new resolve for me to go out and get as much money as I can for MS,” Sue said. At one recent appearance, organizers had a goal of $50,000. By the end of the afternoon, they had $70,000.
“I’ve gone from being the FBI’s secret weapon to being the weapon to destroy MS,” Sue said.
Sue recently purchased a property in Vermont where she plans to build both a spiritual retreat called A Place of Streams and EPEC Service Dogs, a training facility for dogs to aid people with multi-disabilities. Sue has had hearing dogs for her deafness since 1989, but when she developed MS symptoms she realized that few certified training organizations would train dogs for more than one purpose. EPEC stands for Extraordinary People... Extraordinary Canines.