Work, faith and football: The story of Tommy Williams

Buy Photo RICHMOND, Ind. – Tommy Williams first started experiencing health problems when he was a senior in high school.

By the time he was in his 40’s, he lost both his kidneys to infection. A decade later, he lost his legs. Kidney donations have come and gone, too. But what he’s never lost is his faith, his work ethic and his passion for the game of football.

Despite the health problems, the Richmond native takes pride in everything he does, and his first question when leaving the hospital is usually, “When can I return to work?”

When his lifelong friend and cousin-in-law Robert Hooks reached out to Williams about running Richmond’s Youth Football League, he took it as an opportunity to test how ready he was to return to work.

As he sits on a waiting list for another kidney transplant, Williams recently completed his first season as coordinator of the Richmond Youth Football League.

“I’ve been contemplating going back to work, but because I do have a handicap in the last four years, I often doubt it if I can do something from my chair,” Williams said. “These guys walked in one day just out of the blue, they asked me if I wanted to run the league and they would assist me. I thought about it a few days and then I took advantage of it. It was definitely a confidence builder.” A decades-long battle

Tommy Williams Richmond Youth Football League While at RHS, Williams experienced what was just the start of a lifelong battle with kidney problems.

During his senior year, his blood pressure was high, which led to more tests. Later that summer, he developed a kidney infection.

“I ended up going to Reid to get a CT done, I found out that I had a cyst on both kidneys,” Williams said. “… At that time, the nephrologist told me that by the time I was in my 40’s I would have serious issues.”

About every decade, battles with blood pressure resurfaced. Medication kept them under control. But, when he was in his 40’s, the doctor’s prediction that Williams would have serious issues came true.

At age 45, Williams developed tumors in his kidneys.

In November 1998, Williams had a tumor removed from his left kidney. Just two months later, infections spread to the right kidney.

“Subsequently, my kidneys failed because I chose to have the tumors removed,” Williams said. “That was in 1998, November. January of 99 I had the opposite kidney worked on. Two years after I had the partial Nephrectomies, my kidneys failed.”

A nephrectomy is a removal of one, or both kidneys. In 2001, Williams was put on kidney dialysis, a process in which excess water is removed for patients without functioning kidneys. Before getting cleared for a transplant, Williams had remaining tissue removed, during which time he was totally dependent on dialysis. By 2005, he got a kidney transplant.

As he usually does, Williams had his mind set on returning to work – except this time, he had some added motivation.

“I stayed at home from 2004, decided to go back to work in 2006,” he said. “My eldest son, Lorin, was getting ready to go to college, and I just figured, ‘I have to get a job’ to make that a less stressful opportunity for my offspring financially and spiritually.”

Williams returned to Reid as a monitor technician and did clerical work for the Intensive Care Unit.

He did that for several years, before developing an infection, and losing his transplant in 2010.

In June 2010, he returned on dialysis, and hasn’t left yet. Five years later, health issues developed elsewhere. ‘I couldn’t feel my legs’

Tommy Williams Richmond Youth Football League Williams began experiencing problems walking. Upon seeing a podiatrist, he was referred to a vascular doctor, a doctor who specializes in veins and blood vessels.

“I found out that I had blood vessels that had become restricted,” Williams said. “Subsequently, I was being treated for a sore I had on my foot because of the lack of circulation. In one of the treatments, I’m sitting on the gurney, waiting to get into the hyperbolic chamber to help heal the wound, and I couldn’t feel my legs.

“I was taken from the wound center to Reid’s emergency room. They did other testing, the labs came back and found out that the infection was in my spine. It caught me off guard.”

That week, Williams had three discs removed from his back, and two metal rods were inserted. All the while, being treated for the wound on his foot.

“The doctors told me that the procedure that they wanted to use to help save my foot, they couldn’t do it until my body cleared the infection,” Williams said. “At the rate that the wound in my foot was going, the best thing to do was to remove my leg below the knee.”

His left leg was amputated below the knee in the summer of 2015. Soon after, his right leg was amputated above the knee. ‘I want to go back to work’

Tommy Williams Richmond Youth Football League As hard as things were, Williams’ mind wasn’t focused on the negatives. He was trying to find ways to be able to function.

“Even though I knew that I was going to have obstacles and challenges, I made up my mind right then to start reaching out to organizations that could help get me back to normalcy,” Williams said.

“I had an opportunity to work with the Indiana Vocational Rehab Services Group, and they actually came in and assessed my condition and asked me what I wanted to do. I said, ‘Within a year or two years, I want to go back to work.’”

The Vocational Rehabilitation program is a state program which assists people with disabilities to prepare to obtain and maintain services. They helped get Williams’ home up to standards with the American Disability Act, a law that prohibits discrimination against Americans with disabilities.

“They basically helped me retrofit my house so that it was up-to-date ADA (American Disability Act)-wise, widening doors,” Williams said. “I have tools that allow me to get out of my chair and move from my bed to the bathroom and my needs there. I was able to get a vehicle that allows me to get in that vehicle, get in my driver’s seat and drive with hand controls. Just this last March, I had my office completed so that I can work from home if that’s an opportunity that I can get, and that’s just been a blessing.” ‘I’ll do it if Tommy does it’

Tommy Williams, left, and Robert Hooks, have led the Richmond Youth Football League despite both overcoming several health issues. (Photo: Jesus Jimenez/Palladium-Item) Williams and Hooks played football and basketball at Richmond, and Hooks recalls the competition between the two when Hooks attended Hibberd Middle School, and Williams was at Test.

They joined forces in high school, helping the Red Devils win North Central Conference championships three years, before going their separate ways.

“We played against each other in the seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade,” Hooks said. “We were always competing with each other, we were best friends coming through the school, we were friends before sports.”

Upon graduating from Richmond, Williams attended Indiana University, and Hooks enlisted in the Army, staying in Dallas, where he coached youth football and basketball. Williams, on the other hand, was always a big fan of the game, but didn’t get involved in coaching the sport until the mid 1990’s, when he helped in the Hub Etchison football league in Richmond.

Hooks retired in 1999, and spent time traveling to and from Richmond, before family led him to return to Richmond permanently. Before the start of this year, he was asked to take over the program, and he agreed – under one condition.

“I said, ‘I’ll do it if Tommy does it,” Hooks said. “I called him, he said he’d think about it, the whole time he was thinking about it, I was calling him every day.”

Williams said he’s ‘not a football guru,’ but the biggest things he can offer are his strong organizational skills, and his faith. He is often the man behind the scenes, at the gates, and making sure coaches are conducting themselves professionally. But his main contributions have little to do with the game of football.

“I have a strong faith and I learned early on in my faith that I can do anything through Christ that strengthens me,” Williams said. “Two of my main objectives now are to spread the word of our savior, and as long as I can, to be active civilly.“… I told them this year, I’m not a football guru, my main interest is making sure that the league is sustainable, and how to market it, and how to get the monies that we need to keep it going, and how do we recruit kids that are interested in being student athletes, not just an athlete.” ‘… In a good spot because of those guys’ Robert Hooks, left, and […]

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